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How a US Aircraft Carrier is Part of a High-stakes Stand-off in the South China Sea

Deployments like that of the USS Nimitz are routine and undertaken in the knowledge they will be noticed by the increasingly assertive China.

There are few greater displays of US military might than its aircraft carriers – when they move, the world pays attention. They are huge floating cities of sorts.

The US has 11 and they are still the best in the world.

The USS Nimitz is one of them. It’s a warren of cabins and control rooms, beneath an enormous flight deck. It can carry around 5,000 military personnel and as many as 7,000 when you include the accompanying “strike force” of war ships and jets.

We went aboard when the ship was docked temporarily in South Korea but had just completed a deployment in the South China Sea.

Deployments like this are routine, but they are undertaken in the knowledge they will be noticed by one power in particular, and that power is China, the US’ increasingly assertive competitor.

Lt Ben Bushong, who served in the US navy for seven years – much of it as a helicopter pilot – showed us around.

He and his colleagues know things are tense, as they have been for some time.

“The big picture is helping keep a free and open Indo-pacific,” he said.

“I would just say we’re always ready and we’re always training, so if we ever get called we’re ready to respond.”

And rarely has being ready felt more pressing.

The US’ face-off with China has multiple fronts and almost all are becoming more fraught.

Just a few weeks ago, China’s new foreign minister said that if the US does not “hit the breaks” on what it sees as provocations then “conflict will surely follow”.

China has increasingly been making a point of flexing its muscles in the seas that surround it.

For many years it has been accused of militarising islands in the contested South China Sea and engaging in illegal fishing, but recently it has also been sailing and flying much closer to the self-governing island of Taiwan.

There have also been more specific incidents of concern – just last week, China said it chased away a US vessel that had “illegally” entered waters around the contested Paracel Islands, a claim the US denied.

And then there was declassified footage shot by a US jet of a Chinese fighter flying just feet away from it, in a move the US has described as aggressive and dangerous.

Source: Sky News