USS Ronald Reagan Leaves Japanese Port, Marking Shift amid Indo-Pacific Tensions

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Bowing out with nearly a decade of commitment in the Indo-Pacific behind them, the USS Ronald Reagan, the flagship aircraft carrier of a U.S. Navy strike group, departed from its Japanese home port last Thursday. The nuclear-powered Nimitz-class carrier, a titan amongst America’s warships, has served pivotal in the U.S. campaign reinforcing defense alliances within Japan and beyond.

This considerable transition coincides with escalating friction in the Indo-Pacific, an area frequented by an increasingly forward China. The USS Ronald Reagan’s vacancy will be filled later this year by its sister Nimitz-class carrier, the USS George Washington, who is currently stationed near South America. Alongside this transition, Japan has been escalating their own military capability and substantively augmenting their joint naval operations alongside the United States.

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Whilst sending off the USS Ronald Reagan from the Yokosuka Naval Base, those left behind waved goodbye, friends and family of the crew witnessing its final patrol mission and marking the end of an era. The carrier ceremonial farewell was completed with a sea of sailors standing guard at the rails and others on the flight deck forming the Japanese saying “dewa mata,” meaning “see you.” The USS Ronald Reagan’s journey was shared with two guided-missile destroyers, the USS Robert Smalls and USS Howard, with a slated stop in Bremerton, Washington, before continuing on to its next home port assignment.

Bringing the gravity of the moment onshore under the cover of farewell celebrations, was U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Rahm Emanuel, who predicted a “seamless transition.” Emanuel praised the USS Ronald Reagan crew, recognizing the peace they preserved for millions across the Indo-Pacific against coercion, aggression, and suppression.

Since 2015, the USS Ronald Reagan stood proud in Yokosuka. Through its deployment near the Korean Peninsula, it took part in Operation Tomodachi, offering crucial aid in the aftermath of the catastrophic earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster that ravished northeastern Japan in 2011. A unique flagbearer to the power of American naval prowess overseas, the USS Ronald Reagan was the sole American aircraft carrier deployed as the flagship for Carrier Strike Group 5, operating under the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet, in a port outside the U.S.

The USS Ronald Reagan has participated in numerous multilateral exercises during its tenure, embarking on more than a dozen foreign ports, notably including a historic port call in Da Nang, Vietnam, last year.

While disputes over maritime and territorial rights are flaring in the South China Sea between China, the Philippines, and several other nations, anxiety in Japan continues to rise over its own conflict with China regarding uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.

Former Defense Minister, Tomomi Inada, shared her sentiments on the dire importance of cooperation with the U.S. and other like-minded nations for upholding international order after her recent environmental survey trip near the Senkaku islands, referred to by Beijing as the Diaoyu. Addressing the mounting urgency, Inada said, “We must not let the East China Sea become another South China Sea.” Despite protests by China, Inada’s group conducted a survey of the land and vegetation in the area using drones, as landing on the islands is not permitted, and suggested that experts should be allowed to physically research the area.