October 2, 2022

The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) is seen during a port visit in Hong Kong on October 2, 2017.

Anthony Wallace | AFP | Getty Images

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden will keep a US aircraft carrier strike group in the South China Sea longer than originally planned in response to Chinese missile tests and increased aggression around Taiwan, the White House said Thursday.

At the same time, Biden will postpone a previously planned intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test, a White House spokesman said.

The twin announcements signal an approach that seeks to increase US military vigilance in the region while limiting opportunities for Beijing to flag any US action as a provocation for increased aggression towards Taiwan and neighboring countries.

The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and its escort ships will remain in the South China Sea “a little longer than originally planned to be there,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said at the White House on Thursday.

The purpose of the task force’s extended stay in the area will be “to monitor the situation,” he said. He added that “the president thought it was the wise thing to do, to leave her and her escort ships there for a little while longer.”

The Ronald Reagan carrier strike group has been operating in the South China Sea since mid-July. according to the US military.

Kirby said the postponement of the “Minuteman 3” ballistic missile test aims to demonstrate “the behavior of a responsible nuclear power by reducing the risks of miscalculation” while China “engages in destabilizing military exercises around Taiwan.”

However, the United States does not expect China to curb its aggressive actions anytime soon.

“We expect more drills, more belligerence and rhetoric, and we expect more incursions” into non-Chinese territory, he said.

Tensions between Washington and Beijing rose significantly last week, in part because of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to visit Taiwan with a delegation of congressional Democrats.

The White House and the Pentagon reportedly warned the powerful California congresswoman against making the trip when she did because of the potential for heightened bilateral tensions.

But Pelosi wrote in an op-ed that she believes China poses a serious threat to the independence of Taiwan, which Beijing considers a Chinese province. She said her trip was necessary to show American support for democracy in Taiwan and around the world.

But as Biden tries to balance a desire to bend the Americans in the South China Sea and not provoke further action from Beijing, experts say the distinction may be lost on the Chinese government.

“China does not want or need to convince itself that we are serious. And the resolution between ‘serious’ and ‘provocative’ is like angels dancing on a pin,” said Andrew Mertha, director of the China Global Research Center at Johns Hopkins. School of Advanced International Studies.

“This ‘splitting of the difference’ shows exactly the confusion and incoherence that Beijing likely sees as some kind of deliberate, aggressively opaque strategy,” he said in an interview with CNBC.

“If there is calm behind the scenes – both in Beijing and Washington – that will be a prelude to a shift to a more sustained, meaningful diplomatic engagement,” Mertha said.

For example, Kirby stressed on Thursday that the main lines of communication between the US and China are open, despite heightened tensions.

“We’re using those lines of communication, and I think you’ll see that in the next few days,” he said, somewhat cryptically.

The White House did not immediately respond to an email seeking more details on what Kirby meant.

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