US carrier groups conduct drills in South China Sea amid tensions

Published on Feb 09, 2021 07:06 PM IST
Two US aircraft carriers conducted joint drills in the disputed waters of South China Sea, for the first time since July 2020, drawing angry rebuke from China
The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, which on Tuesday participated in joint drills with USS Nimitz in the South China Sea, is seen moored pier side at Naval Base Guam in May, 2020. (AFP)
The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, which on Tuesday participated in joint drills with USS Nimitz in the South China Sea, is seen moored pier side at Naval Base Guam in May, 2020. (AFP)
BySutirtho Patranobis

Two US aircraft carrier groups, comprising dozens of warships and at least 120 fighter aircraft, conducted joint exercises in the South China Sea on Tuesday, days after an American battleship sailed near Chinese-controlled islands in the disputed waters. China criticised the exercise as a “show of force” and vowed to safeguard peace in the disputed maritime zone.

Ships and aircraft of the Theodore Roosevelt and the Nimitz carrier strike groups “coordinated operations in a highly trafficked area to demonstrate the US Navy’s ability to operate in challenging environments”, the US Navy said in a statement. “As a part of dual carrier operations, the strike groups conducted a multitude of exercises aimed at increasing interoperability between assets as well as command and control capabilities.”

The last time the US Navy conducted dual carrier operations in the South China Sea was in July 2020, when Ronald Reagan and Nimitz carrier strike groups twice operated together in the South China Sea, it added.

In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the frequent moves by US warships and aircraft into the South China Sea in a “show of force” was not conducive to regional peace and stability.

“China will continue to take necessary measures to firmly safeguard national sovereignty and security and work with countries in the region to firmly safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea,” Wang added.

Tuesday’s exercise comes days after China condemned the sailing of the destroyer, the USS John S McCain, near the Chinese-controlled Paracel Islands (Xisha in Chinese) in what Washington calls a freedom of navigation operation - the first such mission by the US Navy since President Joe Biden took office last month.

China claims nearly the entire South China Sea, which are disputed by several maritime neighbours including the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia besides Vietnam and Taiwan, which China says is a breakaway region.

“Working cooperatively alongside Carrier Strike Group Nine (CSG Theodore Roosevelt) improves our collective tactical skill while ensuring regional stability and security,” said Rear Adm Jim Kirk, commander, Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 11.

“We are committed to ensuring the lawful use of the sea that all nations enjoy under international law,” Kirk was quoted in the navy statement as saying.

Spokesperson Wang also reacted to the French defence minister Florence Parly’s announcement that a French nuclear attack submarine was among two navy ships that recently conducted a patrol through the South China Sea.

“The SNA Emeraude was accompanied by support ship BSAM Seine for the passage,” Parly said on Twitter late on Monday.

“This extraordinary patrol has just completed a passage in the SCS. A striking proof of the capacity of our French Navy to deploy far away and for a long time together with our Australian, American and Japanese strategic partners,” she tweeted along with a picture of the two vessels at sea.

Responding to it, Wang said there was no problem with the freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea. China has always respected the freedom of navigation and overflight enjoyed by all countries in the South China Sea in accordance with international law.

However, China opposes any country’s freedom of navigation in the name of endangering China’s sovereignty and security and undermining regional peace and tranquillity, Wang said.


    Sutirtho Patranobis has been in Beijing since 2012, as Hindustan Times’ China correspondent. He was previously posted in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where he covered the final phase of the civil war and its aftermath. Patranobis covered several beats including health and national politics in Delhi before being posted abroad.

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