A strange coincidence puzzled Washington officials on Wednesday, Sept. 2.
During the time of U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Alaska, five Chinese military ships were reported in the Bering Sea, only 12 nautical miles from the Alaska coast. The unexpected presence happened just shortly after Russia and China finished their largest common naval training action to date in the South China Sea.
U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert confirmed that the foreign forces are sailing back home, after doing exercises in the international waters on Wednesday.
Officials from the U.S. Navy said that, out of the five vessels, three were surface warfare ships, one an amphibious assault ship and one a support ship.
"We respect the freedom of all nations to operate military vessels in international waters in accordance with international law," declared Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis. The event marks a first since Chinese navy ships have never gotten so close to the Alaska coast before.
In spite of reassuring declarations from Defense officials, the question about the naval exercises lingers. Most data suggest that China is eager to establish itself as a "blue water" force to be taken into account. If the control of the Pacific Ocean is at stake, more intimidation or provocative actions may ensue.
The possibility is especially troublesome for those who still regard the Pacific Ocean as the "American lake."
"Observers of Chinese and U.S. military forces view China's improving naval capabilities as posing a potential challenge in the Western Pacific to the U.S. Navy's ability to achieve and maintain control of blue-water ocean areas in wartime—the first such challenge the US Navy has faced since the end of the Cold War," said Ronald O'Rourke, U.S. specialist in naval affairs at the Congressional Research Service, in a July report [pdf].
U.S. Navy presence near the borders of China is rather common since some American allies are bordering the disputed territories of the South China Sea. Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore are sometimes training in common under American supervision.