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In early July Beijing ordered its ships to perform a controversial naval drill near the Paracel Islands. The Paracel Islands are also known as the Xisha Islands by China are a contentious group of 130 small coral islands and reefs. This maritime region is strategically important as well as containing natural resources and has been controlled by China since they expelled the Vietnamese from the islands in January 1974.
The recent naval drills by China have drawn protests from Vietnam who claim sovereignty over the islands.
Now the US has sent two of its aircraft carriers into the vicinity of the Paracel Islands.
The US ships have been accompanied by Japanese vessels.
This week Vietnamese general Vo Tien Trung, a former member of the Communist Party Central Committee, warned that the recent military drills by China and the US have “created instability and a tense situation.”
He added: “Such actions of the two countries’ militaries create the risk of a military clash leading to instability in the South China Sea region.”
Speaking to the Vietnamese state-run Dan Viet newspaper he said: “We ask both sides to exercise utmost restraint.”
RAND Corporation analyst Andrew Scobell also spoke out against the military drills that are being conducted without caution.
Speaking of the escalating military drills Mr Scobell said: “It worries me because that gives both sides a sense that they can do things without worrying about the potential for escalation.”
Conducting military drills in close proximity is also a cause for concern for Olli Pekka Suorsa, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.
Mr Suorsa said: “With both China and the United States deploying significant numbers of ships and military aircraft in close proximity with one another, the risk of collision is an ever-present danger.
He added: “And with tensions running as high as they are today, an accident or miscalculation is never far away.”
The US show of strength was also supported by diplomatic challenges on China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.
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US defence officials this week denounced the “continued militarization of disputed features” in the South China Sea.
The also spoke out against China’s “coercive use of coast guard vessels and maritime militias”.
The US has been particularly critical of Beijing’s disruption of other countries’ rights to the resource-rich area.
This led to a furious rebuff from Beijing, which accused the US of being a “non-regional countries”.
They also accused the US of threatening stability in the area.
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