Two US Navy aircraft carrier strike groups conducted large-scale joint exercises in the South China Sea this week, seen as a show of force against China.
The operations of the USS Theodore Roosevelt and USS Nimitz – aircraft carriers traveling with fighter planes and escort ships which include frigates and guided-missile destroyers – could be interpreted as an example of the new administration of President Joe Biden displaying determination against slowly-encroaching Chinese claims in the South China Sea, also known as the West Philippine Sea.
The state-run China Times said on Wednesday that the exercise had “more symbolic and political meanings” than a display of military capability, and the commander of one of the strike groups said the ships’ arrivals were more a matter of timing.
“The fact that they came together in the South China Sea was based on our navigation plan and making the most efficient route to and from our areas,” said Rear Adm. Doug Verissimo, commander of the USS Theodore Roosevelt strike group.
The two groups conducted mutual tactical proficiency drills, which concluded on Tuesday.
The maneuvers came days after the USS John McCain conducted operations near the Paracel Islands, a collection of islands in the Sea and claimed by China, Vietnam and Taiwan.
Two weeks earlier, Chinese warplanes entered Taiwan’s air defense zone in a manner suggesting a simulated attack against an aircraft carrier.
Rear Adm. James Kirk, commander of the Nimitz strike group, said an expansion of Chinese military capabilities was observed during its 10-month deployment in the South China sea.
“We’re seeing a larger number of aircraft, larger number of ships available to the Chinese military, utilized on a daily basis, so the capacity has clearly increased,” Kirk said after completion of the exercises.
A French nuclear submarine recently travelled through the area as well, French Defense Minister Florence Parly said on Monday, to demonstrate the French navy’s ability to operate far from home and with strategic partners.