Esper: US Ships Won’t Be Stopped by Anybody in South China Sea

Says US will uphold keeping ships, carriers in disputed waters

In comments on Tuesday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that neither China nor anyone else was going to tell the US that their warships or aircraft carriers are not free to sail wherever they want in the South China Sea. China and several other nations have contested control over the sea.

The US backs all nations’ claims in the South China Sea, except for China’s, and to underscore that routinely sends warships near Chinese claimed islands to spite them. Two aircraft carrier strike groups are in the sea presently.

Esper said the US will uphold a “free and open system,” and has to prepare for the possibility that China will continue its “aggressive behavior.” He says the US will position more forces to counter China, and keep up with the operations into the sea.

China has complained about US ships in the region as a deliberate provocation. It doesn’t seem deniable that it is a provocation, and at most the US can say it’s going to continue.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.