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3 US Navy aircraft carriers are patrolling the Pacific. And China is not happy

China aircraft carrier
Barbara C. Arroyo

USS Ronald Reagan and USS Theodore Roosevelt are both patrolling the western Pacific, while USS Nimitz is in the east, according to US Navy press reports. With more than 60 aircraft on each ship, this marks the largest deployment of US aircraft carriers in the Pacific since 2017 – when tensions with North Korea mounted on Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.

“The carriers and the carrier strike groups are exceptional symbols for the American Navy. I was really fired when we got three of them,” said Rear Adm. Stephen Koehler, operations director at Indo-Pacific Command, Hawaii, told the AP.

On Sunday, the Communist Party’s Global Times mouthpiece said carriers could threaten troops in the disputed South China Sea.

“By assembling these aircraft carriers, the ships enter the South China Sea and pass through the islands of Jisha and Nansha (Paracel and Spratly Islands), as well as nearby waters, so the US can use its dominant politics.” Global Times Report Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie said.

The report – posted on the official English website of the People’s Liberation Army – also highlighted the weapons available to the Chinese military, saying Beijing could conduct drills in response to the demonstration of its ammunition.

“The aircraft carrier killer weapons at China are DF-21D and DF-26 anti-ship ballistic missiles,” the story said.

Counter-narrative of China

The deployment means that three of the US Navy’s seven active aircraft carriers are in the Pacific. The other four are in port for maintenance.

Collin Koh, a research fellow at the Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies in Singapore, said there were conflicts with Beijing’s portrayal of China as a disabled force with the coronavirus pandemic.

“This is contrary to the narrative that China is putting forth that the US is under pressure in the Pacific,” Koh said.

In fact, Roosevelt returned to the sea after spending weeks at the port of Guam on June 4, when a coronavirus outbreak in March tested positive for more than 1,000 of the ship’s 4,900 members.

“We return Theodore Roosevelt to the sea, a symbol of hope and inspiration, and an instrument of national power as we are the TR,” Roosevelt commander Captain Carlos Sardillo said in a statement.

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Reagan returned to the sea at the end of May after restricting personnel at his home port in Japan to be deployed without Covid-19 cases. It was also loaded with an ordinance of more than 1,000 tons – “enough war power to make the ship sit five inches below the waterline,” the US Navy said.

The move comes after the US Pacific Fleet said last month that its forward-deployed submarines were in maritime operations in the western Pacific. The numbers are not given, but experts say there are more than eight track-fast-attack vessels.

It’s not a coincidence, says Carl Schuster, former director of operations at the US Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center.

“The Chinese Navy does not know where those submarines are, and this complicates any response calculations and planning,” he said, noting that Beijing now must include three aircraft carriers and destroyers and cruisers.

US-China tensions

These expansions also come at a time of rising tensions between Washington and Beijing over the South China Sea and Taiwan.

Last week, the Navy said that a US Navy C-40 transport aircraft similar to a Boeing 737 was a regular logistics flight en route to Thailand over Thailand. US Navy spokesman Ryan Mamsen told CNN that Taiwanese air controllers have flown the US jet over Taiwan, which China considers part of its territory.

Pressure is mounting on Indonesia and Malaysia in the South China Sea

But Beijing called the flight “an illegal act and a serious provocation”, the state-owned Xinhua news service said.

“Overflight has undermined China’s sovereignty, security and development interests and violated international law and fundamental rules that guide international relations,” Xinhua’s story quoted Hu Hu Fenglian, a spokesman for the State Council’s Taiwan affairs office.

On June 4, the US Navy sent a guided-missile destroyer through the Strait of Taiwan, which separates the island from mainland China. In the South China Sea, over 1.3 million square miles of water that Beijing claims to be its sovereign territory, U.S. warships have demonstrated multiple degrees of freedom of navigation this year. US B-1 bombers and reconnaissance planes are also active.

About the author

Barbara C. Arroyo

Barbara C. Arroyo

I'm a writer, editor and newsroom leader working at the intersection of tech and media, editorial and product, journalism and management. I am driven to transform our industry for the future, develop and mentor our people, build compassionate and innovative organizational cultures, and put readers and communities at the center of it all. I also have a love of storytelling and creative work, and refuse to pick one or the other.

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