U.S., China aircraft carriers conduct exercises in South China Sea, raising tensions

Courtesy of U.S. Navy
Two crew members of the USS Mustin monitor the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning in a photo taken on April 4 in the Philippine Sea.

BEIJING/WASHINGTON — The Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning has entered the South China Sea, creating an unprecedented situation in which U.S. and Chinese aircraft carriers are deployed simultaneously in the area. The Chinese navy’s increased activity, triggered by the U.S. administration’s growing involvement in the South China Sea and Taiwan, has stoked tensions with the United States.

Show of force

The Liaoning passed through a sea area in the north of the Philippines and entered the South China Sea on Saturday, according to sources familiar with Chinese military affairs.

The Liaoning will soon conduct military drills to demonstrate China’s firm determination to protect its sovereignty, the sources said.

Another Chinese aircraft carrier, the Shandong, is thought to be anchored off Hainan Island, which faces the South China Sea. There is a possibility that China will operate the two aircraft carriers to show off its growing naval power.

Liaoning’s movement seems to reflect China’s strong awareness of the U.S. forces.

On Friday, a U.S. Navy strike group led by the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier conducted a drill in the South China Sea with the USS Makin Island amphibious assault ship.

The Liaoning’s movements indicated preparations for a contingency in Taiwan. Before entering the South China Sea, the aircraft carrier conducted drills around April 4-5 in waters east of Taiwan with other warships, including a state-of-the-art Type 055 guided-missile destroyer.

Military sources in various countries believe the drills were based on a scenario to prevent the intervention of U.S. aircraft carriers and other warships in the event of an emergency.

Beijing appears to be anxious about the possibility that Taiwan will be one of the major topics on the agenda at the Japan-U.S. summit meeting to be held in Washington on Friday.

After the drill, a Chinese Navy spokesman said, “We will continue to conduct similar exercises regularly, in line with our plans.”

Emphasizing surveillance

In a photo posted by the U.S. Navy online on April 4, two crew members on the deck of the USS Mustin, a guided-missile destroyer sailing in the Philippine Sea, watch the Liaoning sailing in parallel with the U.S. destroyer.

The release of the photo seems to be aimed at emphasizing that the U.S. military is monitoring China’s movements.

China’s provocative moves have prompted the U.S. side to strengthen its involvement.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken held telephone talks with Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin on April 8, and the two confirmed that the U.S.-Philippine mutual defense treaty also applies to the South China Sea.

The talks were held after Chinese fishing boats that were said to have been carrying maritime militia members had assembled off Palawan Island in the Philippines, piling pressure on the Philippine government.

Blinken expressed concern saying that China is “raising tensions in the [Taiwan] straits,” in an interview with NBC News of the United States, which was aired on Sunday. He also warned that it would “be a serious mistake for anyone to try to change the existing status quo by force”