U.S. Navy Deploys Two Aircraft Carriers to the South China Sea

Aircraft carrier the USS Nimitz takes part in an exercise in the Bay of Bengal in July 2017 in this US Navy handout photograph
Navy Office of Information/AFP Cole SCHROEDER

The U.S. Navy deployed two aircraft carriers to the South China Sea this weekend in the “largest-scale exercises in the region in years,” the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) mouthpiece Global Times reported on Sunday.

The U.S. Navy deployed two aircraft carriers – the USS Ronald Reagan and USS Nimitz – to the South China Sea on Saturday where they “completed hundreds of launches of jets, surveillance planes, and helicopters in some of the largest military drills in recent years” throughout the weekend, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Strike fighters and electronic-warfare jets took off day and night from two U.S. aircraft carriers in the South China Sea to simulate sustained attacks on enemy bases as Washington put on one of its biggest displays of naval power in a potential flashpoint for conflict.

A B-52 bomber joined the two aircraft carriers on Saturday, a statement by the Pacific Air Forces said on Sunday:

One B-52 Stratofortress bomber … took off from home station and participated in a maritime integration exercise with the USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan carrier strike groups in the South China Sea before landing at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. The B-52 flew the 28-hour mission to demonstrate U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s commitment to the security and stability of the Indo-Pacific region.

On Sunday, the CCP’s propaganda newspaper, the Global Times, responded to the U.S. military exercises in the South China Sea describing them as America’s “largest-scale exercises in the region in years.” The newspaper noted that the U.S. exercises were “rare” because they “coincided with Chinese military drills taking place in the same area and time frame.”

“The PLA [People’s Liberation Army, China’s army] is conducting intensive drills and has recently tested a new naval missile in the Bohai Sea, and is ready to defend against aggression, ” the Global Times claimed, citing Chinese reports. Continuing, the article detailed recent Chinese military drills in the region:

According to a notice released by China’s Maritime Safety Administration, the Chinese drills, also in the South China Sea, near the Xisha [Paracel] Islands, run from Wednesday to Sunday. In separate operations, the PLA has been conducting intensive drills in the South China Sea, East China Sea, and Yellow Sea recently, China Central Television (CCTV) reported on Saturday. Advanced warships including Type 052D guided-missile destroyers and Type 054A guided-missile frigates were involved.

The Global Times article then adopted an aggressive tone, quoting “analysts” who allegedly told the newspaper that the Chinese army has aircraft carrier “killer” missiles ready for deployment should U.S. Navy vessels in the South China Sea make a wrong move:

The South China Sea is fully within the grasp of the PLA, and any U.S. aircraft carrier movement in the region is closely watched and taken aim at by the PLA, which has a wide range of anti-aircraft carrier weapons like the DF-21D and DF-26, which are both regarded as “aircraft carrier killer” missiles, analysts noted.

The Global Times also threatened on Twitter on Saturday that the “South China Sea is fully within grasp of the #PLA; any U.S. #aircraftcarrier movement in the region is at the pleasure of PLA,” to which the U.S. Navy’s Chief of Information responded:

The U.S. Navy tagged the Global Times article with the threat in full and included the hashtag #AtOurDiscretion.

At a regularly scheduled press conference on Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian responded to the U.S. military drills over the weekend. “The U.S. has ulterior motives by intentionally sending heavy forces into the South China Sea for large-scale drills and flexing its muscles,” Zhao claimed.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry accused the U.S. of “flexing” its military “muscles” on the same day that the Chinese army released new footage of its PLA troops training at a Hong Kong garrison through “grenade and shooting drills,” the South China Morning Post reported on Monday.

Security forces in the formerly semi-autonomous city are preparing to enforce a crackdown on citizens after Hong Kong’s so-called National Security Law went into effect last week. Officially, the law aims to punish “secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces,” but critics, including the U.S. and many Western nations, have condemned the CCP’s legislation as effectively stripping Hong Kong of its limited freedoms.

According to the report, the Hong Kong PLA garrison’s official WeChat [Chinese messaging] account posted a video demonstrating “a range of exercises on Sunday, including target practice, throwing live grenades, and a map-reading exercise.” The post described the drill as “checking [soldiers’] abilities in emergency dispatch, mobilization, communication, and use of weapons.”

Hong Kong’s new national security law comes in response to the city’s peaceful pro-democracy movement, which saw thousands of demonstrators take to the streets consistently over the past year.

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