The US sent two carrier groups to the South China Sea in a show of force intended to intimidate China in its aggressive takeover of a disputed archipelago. China responded by boasting of its “wide selection of anti-aircraft carrier weapons”, claiming that the mega-warships operated “at the pleasure of the PLA [People’s Liberation Army]”. The response by the US Navy was short and to the point: “Not intimidated.”

The decision to send the two nuclear-powered carriers, the USS Nimitz and the USS Ronald Reagan, into the South China Sea for dual-carrier operations and exercises was bound to ruffle the feathers of the Chinese government. This is the first time since 2014 that two carriers have been in the region and China is currently conducting a five-day drill around the Paracel Islands.  

The Paracel Islands, essentially an archipelago, is a group of 130 islands approximately equidistant from the coastlines of the People’s Republic of China and Vietnam and also in proximity to the Philippines. The archipelago is surrounded by productive fishing grounds and a seabed with potential, but as yet unexplored, oil and gas reserves. As such, they have long been the focus of a dispute between the three countries.

Vietnam and the Philippines have both protested the Chinese Naval exercise, and the US has also criticized the exercise as counterproductive to easing regional tension.

The Chinese Naval exercise was provocative enough for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to weigh in, labeling it “highly provocative.”

 

China was clearly displeased with the presence of two nuclear aircraft carriers and accompanying warships in their backyard. Global Times, a daily tabloid newspaper under the auspices of the Chinese Communist Party, tweeted a clear threat, mentioning two missiles claimed to be capable of sinking an aircraft carrier.

 

The Navy Chief of Information responded calmly, noting “And yet there they are.”

 

The US Navy occasionally challenges China’s claims to the region by conducting “Freedom of Navigation Operations,” most recently in May.