For much of the last week, the U.S. aircraft carrier Carl Vinson has been patrolling the South China Sea. It is just the kind of display of Washington’s power and global reach that the U.S. Navy excels at — both to reassure allies and, in this case, send a message to potential foes.

How much longer Washington will be able to perform such operations unchallenged, however, is an increasingly open question. Some military experts project that within a little more than a decade, China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy may have more warships than Washington under its command. Beijing’s military buildup is part of its strategy to dominate many disputed territories in the South China Sea — and push America back.

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