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Why was a US submarine in the South China Sea?

A US nuclear submarine hit an "unknown" object while it was patrolling near the Chinese coast. Why does the US have a presence there?

Update:
A US nuclear submarine was damaged after hitting an unidentified object while operating underwater in Asia, the US Navy said. The USS Connecticut, a nuclear-powered fast-attack submarine, "struck an object while submerged on the afternoon of Oct. 2,
Lt. Mack JamiesonAFP

US officials announced that a US submarine collided with an unidentified object underwater, causing injuries to its crew. The late announcement, as the crash happened October 2, comes amid renewed tensions in the region. The Chinese government has flown regular sorties over the island in recent days, which it sees as a breakaway province, testing the US commitment to defending its Indo-Pacific ally.

The US has called on the Chinese to stop their posturing, but you may have questions why the US government cares so much about such a small island next to China.

Why is the US that near to China anyway?

The US has defensive commitments to Taiwan, China's neighbor or province, depending on your politics. This dates back to the Second World War when the Taiwanese government ruled China. At the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949 the Kuomintang, China's government, fled to the island of Taiwan.

Despite being much smaller than its new communist brother, Taiwan kept its permanent seat at the UN until the 1970s when most of the world accepted the People's Republic of China (PRC) as the sole representative of China. Despite this, the US has maintained a military presence on the island. A treaty in 1955 affirmed the US defense of Taiwan.

The PRC has never controlled Taiwan militarily due to the protection offered by the US. The US sells billions of dollars to Taiwan each year to defend the island from Chinese encroachment. The Chinese regularly test Taiwanese resolve by conducting military tests nearby and flying military aircraft into Taiwanese airspace.

US designates China as its new enemy

Hawks, meaning pro-war American lawmakers, have designated China as its target for the 21st century. As undisputed global hegemon, with the threat of a rising power coming to meet it, the US has deemed China an existential threat. This is compounded by China's socialist government, a political ideology loathed by the US political class and much of its populace.

Conservative media regularly runs stories on how Taiwan is preparing for a Chinese invasion at any moment, usually accompanied by a new sale of American weapons to the island. Whether China invades or not, the US is really the only power that can do something to prevent an attack.

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