United States, China hashtag battle over carriers in South China Sea
The US Navy and Chinese media exchanged hashtag fire on Twitter over US carrier groups and the Chinese military holding exercises in the South China Sea at the same time. The state-owned Global Times tweeted pictures of Chinese missiles and warships, and warned any US carriers in the sea did so “at the pleasure of PLA)”. The US Navy’s chief of information tweeted back the next day: “And yet, there they are… #USSNimitz & #USSRonaldReagan are not intimidated.” The tweet ended, “#AtOurDiscretion.”
PLA is the People’s Liberation Army, the Chinese military. The Nimitz and Reagan are two “supercarriers”, or large aircraft carriers, in the US American fleet.
Military exercises with two carrier battle groups are rare. The last one held by the US in the South China Sea took place in 2014, and indicates a deliberate show of military power in waters claimed by Beijing.
The Global Times tweeted pictures of the main gun of the Chinese guided missile frigate Yulin and three long-range anti-carrier missiles, either DF-21Ds or DF-26s. It warned that the “South China Sea is fully within the grasp of the #PLA”, and linked an article criticising the US decision to deliberately hold exercises at the same time China was holding military drills near the Xisha islands in the disputed South China Sea. The US decision showed it was “the real source of potential regional instability”, the newspaper said.
On Sunday, another Global Times article described the carrier groups as “nothing more than paper tigers on China’s doorstep”. It claimed the US drills were “a mere show to make up for its loss of face regarding epidemic control” and the loss of its “Hong Kong card” following the passage a new national security law giving Beijing sweeping powers of arrest there.
The Chinese drills were originally scheduled to run from Wednesday to Sunday. The US Navy’s started on Saturday.
David Larter of defensenews.com noted that whether or not the carriers could be destroyed by Chinese missiles was irrelevant. “The point of operating aircraft carriers in the S. China Sea isn’t to demonstrate American invincibility, it’s to demonstrate that the United States is not deterred by China’s missiles,” he tweeted.
The US Pacific Fleet’s twitter account joined the fray on Monday with pictures of a B-52H bomber and fighters from the USS Nimitz flying in formation over the South China Sea. The bomber was flown from a base in Louisiana to show, the US Air Force said, “strategic predictability and operational unpredictability”.
Beijing’s response was to call in the diplomats.The Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson on Monday accused the US of “ulterior motives by intentionally sending heavy forces into the South China Sea for large-scale drills and flexing its muscles.” He added that Washington was “alienating countries in the region, pushing for South China Sea militarisation and sabotaging peace and stability, and that China holding military drills in waters of Xisha islands was “within the country’s sovereignty”.
The Twitter banter over the exercises reflects the deepening and increasingly more overt strategic rivalry between the US and China. Senior US and Chinese officials make statements against each other’s military intentions in the Indo Pacific region every few days. The past few weeks, for example, has seen US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo say the US needs to shift troops out of Europe to take on Chinese military might. The White House cited a “pattern of aggression” by Beijing that encompassed the South China Sea, the Ladakh border clashes and other actions.