Twenty days into a Joe Biden presidency, the Pentagon has conducted dual aircraft carrier operations in the South China Sea for the first time since last summer and maintained an impressive array of forces meant to send an ongoing message to China.
The Navy on Monday announced dual operations that same day by the Theodore Roosevelt and Nimitz carrier strike groups that “are intended to maintain U.S. readiness and combat-credible forces to reassure allies and partners and preserve peace in the region.”
Eric Sayers, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said today in an article in online publication War on the Rocks, that Biden and his administration “are inheriting a very different world than when he was last in the White House just four years ago.”
“China’s predatory and coercive behavior under President Xi Jinping has increased rapidly in recent years, targeted against Uighur Muslims, Hong Kong, Taiwan, India, Australia, Japan and others,” said Sayers, a former special assistant at U.S. Pacific Command, where he advised then-Adm. Harry Harris on strategic engagement in the Indo-Pacific.
Biden said on Feb. 4 that, “American leadership must meet this new moment of advancing authoritarianism, including the growing ambitions of China to rival the United States and the determination of Russia to damage and disrupt our democracy.”
The United States “will take on directly” the challenges posed to prosperity, security and democratic values “by our most serious competitor, China,” he said.
The destroyer USS John S. McCain ran a “freedom of navigation operation” on Feb. 5 and “asserted navigation rights and freedoms in the vicinity of the Paracel Islands” in the contested South China Sea, the Navy said. The John S. McCain also conducted a Taiwan Strait transit on Feb. 4.
Air forces from the United States, Japan and Australia are participating in the annual Cope North 2021 at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam from Feb. 3 to 19, meanwhile.
More than 1,800 U.S. airmen, Marines and sailors are training alongside 400 Japanese and Australian service members, with about 95 aircraft from 23 flying units participating, according to the Air Force.
Operations are taking place at Andersen Air Force Base and at Northwest Field on Guam, and at Koror and Angaur in Palau.
In a first for Cope North, Pacific Air Force’s largest multi-lateral exercise, F-35A Joint Strike Fighters from the 356th Fighter Squadron in Alaska are participating with Japanese and Australian aircraft on communications.
“The fighters will also conduct close air support and offensive and defensive counter-air and aerial refueling missions, concluding with a large force employment exercise designed to increase readiness and interoperability among the three countries,” Pacific Air Forces said in a release.
In announcing the freedom of navigation operation by the John S. McCain, the Navy said that, “Unlawful and sweeping maritime claims in the South China Sea pose a serious threat to the freedom of the sea, including freedoms of navigation and overflight, free trade and unimpeded commerce and freedom of economic opportunity for South China Sea littoral nations.”
China, Taiwan and Vietnam all claim sovereignty over the Paracel Islands, the Navy said.
The Navy said the last time the United States conducted dual-carrier operations in the South China Sea was in July of 2020 when the Ronald Reagan and Nimitz carrier strike groups twice operated together in the region.
At a news conference today, China Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin was asked about the two aircraft carriers and a recent demonstration of French navy freedom of navigation in the region to show cooperation with the United States, Australia and Japan.
Wang said the United States frequently sends vessels and aircraft to the South China Sea “to flex its muscles. This is not conducive to peace and stability in the region.”
China will continue to take necessary measures to “firmly defend” its national sovereignty, he said.
Wang also said: “There is no problem with freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea. China always respects the freedom of navigation and overflight enjoyed by all countries in the South China Sea in accordance with international law. However, We oppose any attempt to undermine China’s sovereignty and security and disrupt regional peace and tranquility under the pretext of ‘freedom of navigation.’ ”