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.
The Chinese Naval exercise was provocative enough for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to weigh in, labeling it “highly provocative.”
America agrees with our Southeast Asian friends: The PRC’s military exercise in disputed waters of the South China Sea is highly provocative. We oppose Beijing’s unlawful claims. Period. https://t.co/i6TRac2WuJ
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) July 3, 2020
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.
China has a wide selection of anti-aircraft carrier weapons like DF-21D and DF-26 “aircraft carrier killer” #missiles. South China Sea is fully within grasp of the #PLA; any US #aircraftcarrier movement in the region is at the pleasure of PLA: analysts. https://t.co/X5L0foka6Q pic.twitter.com/rEPjp9gqAZ
— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) July 4, 2020
The Navy Chief of Information responded calmly, noting “And yet there they are.”
And yet, there they are. Two @USNavy aircraft carriers operating in the international waters of the South China Sea. #USSNimitz & #USSRonaldReagan are not intimidated #AtOurDiscretion https://t.co/QGTggRjOul
— Navy Chief of Information (@chinfo) July 5, 2020
The US Navy occasionally challenges China’s claims to the region by conducting “Freedom of Navigation Operations,” most recently in May.