House Speaker Nancy Pelosi started her Asian tour yesterday and China’s been on edge since. Pelosi’s itinerary includes Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, and possibly Taiwan, but there’s no confirmation on Taiwan yet.

Because of this, China had reportedly been laying the groundwork to carry out “military provocations” in case Pelosi continues her visit to Taiwan. China promises to take “resolute and strong measures” if Pelosi moves forward with her visit.

As China prepares its military for a potential confrontation, US Navy is also on the move and has moved the USS Ronald Reagan and USS Tripoli closer to Taiwan.

The Carrier Strike Group built around the USS Ronald Reagan had been operating in the South China Sea and has moved to a new station in the Philippines Sea off the East coast of Luzon in the Philippines which is south of Taiwan, while the Tripoli is the waters South of Okinawa and can be covered by aircraft stationed at US bases on the island as well as by her own air complement.  At Sasebo in Japan, the amphibious assault ship USS America is believed to be in port but can be put to sea quickly if need be.  While both the Tripoli and the America are amphibious assault vessels, both are capable of launching and supporting between 16-20 F-35B Lightening II, multi-role fighter.  These aircraft are flown by Marine Corps pilots.  The F-35B gives the navy the ability to convert its amphibious assault ships into strike carriers as need be.  The position of the USS Tripoli would also allow F-35Bs from Okinaw of Japan to land on her deck and refuel and rearm on the way to or from a target at sea.

USS Ronald Reagan
The Ronald Reagan Strike Group is forward-deployed to the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations in support of security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. (Source: Stuart Rankin/Flickr)

The USS Ronald Raegan is a nuclear-powered supercarrier and is the 9th ship in her class. Named after President Ronald W. Raegan, the carrier was built at Newport News Shipbuilding at Newport News, Virginia, and was commissioned on July 12, 2003.

From 2006 to 2011, the USS Ronald Raegan made five deployments while headquartered at the Naval Air Station North Island. In October 2015, it also replaced the USS George Washington as the flagship carrier of the Carrier Strike Group Five. At present, it’s assisting the USS Tripoli for this deployment in Taiwan.

The USS Tripoli (LHA-7) was named in honor of the US Marine Corps victory at the Battle of Derna during the First Barbary War. This is the third US Navy ship with this name and the second America-class amphibious assault ship.

Coordinator for Strategic Communications at the National Security Council John Kirby said the speaker has yet to confirm her travel plans, “and it is for the speaker to do so, and her staff.”

“We have been clear from the very beginning that she will make her own decisions, and that Congress is an independent branch of government,” Kirby said. “Our Constitution embeds a separation of powers. This is well known to the PRC, given our more than four decades of diplomatic relations. The speaker has the right to visit Taiwan, and the speaker of the House has visited Taiwan before, without incident, as have many members of Congress, including this year.”



China’s Two Aircraft Carriers Put to Sea

Meanwhile, Chinese State media reports that its two aircraft carriers, the Liaoning & Shandong have sailed from their respective ports in Qingdao and Sanya and put to sea in the last 48 hours.  Both of these carriers are based on a Soviet design that dates back to the 1970s and are conventionally powered.  They carry a complement of 36 aircraft comprised of  24 J-15 jets, six Z-18F  transport helicopters for anti-submarine warfare, four Z-18J electronic warfare helicopters and two Z-9C rescue helicopters.

Both Chinese carriers combined carry 72 aircraft compared to the 90 aboard the USS Ronald Reagan, which carries five entire squadrons of FA-18 Superhornets in its airwing or about 75 aircraft. By contrast, the Chinese carriers can only put about 48 strike aircraft into the sky without leaving any fighters to protect the carriers from attack.

It is doubtful either fleet will come anywhere close to each other, the USS Reagan and Tripoli are both positioned out of range of any land-launched cruise missiles and out of the South China Sea so if the Chinese navy wants trouble they will have to sail far out to sea in order to find it.

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The current location of the USS Ronald Reagan is believed to be to the East of Luzon in the Philippines, versus the location shown on this map.

Chinese Domination Over Taiwan

Under the “One China” policy, the US continues to recognize Beijing’s determination around Taiwan being part of the Chinese government. Though Taiwan continues to fight for independence, since the matter is still “unsettled,” the US is open to supporting self-governing islands and maintaining informal ties.

“We, and countries around the world, believe escalation serves no one,” Kirby said. “Beijing’s actions could have unintended consequences that only serve to increase tensions.”

“The world should reject any [Chinese] effort to use it to do so,” Kirby said, referring to a possible Pelosi appearance in Taiwan. “We will not take the bait or engage in saber rattling. At the same time, we will not be intimated. We will keep operating in the seas and skies of the western pacific, as we have for decades.”

Even though Pelosi’s potential Taiwan visit may appear casual, US military officials have voiced their concerns about this to President Biden. Biden announced during a press conference that “the military thinks it’s not a good idea right now. But I don’t know what the status of it is.”

President Joe Biden
President of the United States Joe Biden (Source: The White House/Flickr)

Biden is expected to speak with Chinese President Xi Jinping in the next ten days as his national security and economic aides complete their review of the US tariff policy and make finalized recommendations to the president.

Under former President Donald Trump, a 25% duty on billions of dollars of Chinese products is levied on Chinese imports. These penalties are placed to reduce the US trade deficit and force China to adopt “fairer practices.” Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen called to remove the tariffs to fight US inflation. Still, opposite US Trade Representative Katherine Tai raised concerns about easing these tariffs, especially since China has not upheld their agreements on purchasing US products.

So, for now, there’s still no certainty about Pelosi’s Taipei visit, but White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby highlights the visit as an isolated case. Pelosi, ultimately, is not representing the US administration, and he added other members of Congress had visited Taiwan before.

“Put simply, there is no reason for Beijing to turn a potential visit consistent with long-standing US policy into some sort of crisis or use it as a pretext to increase aggressive military activity in or around the Taiwan Strait,” Kirby said.