2 US Navy carrier strike groups drill together in the disputed South China Sea, sparking complaints from Beijing

The Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group transits in formation with the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group in the South China Sea Feb. 9, 2021 U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Deirdre Marsac
  • Two US Navy carrier strike groups conducted dual carrier operations in the South China Sea Tuesday.
  • The carrier operations follow a destroyer’s South China Sea freedom-of-navigation operation and Taiwan Strait transit.
  • China has complained about each of the recent US military moves in the area.
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The US Navy has two carrier strike groups operating together in the South China Sea, and it is the latest in a series of US military moves to spark complaints from Beijing.

The Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group conducted coordinated dual carrier operations with the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group on Tuesday, the Navy said in a statement, explaining that the carriers and the cruisers and destroyers that accompany them demonstrated the “Navy’s ability to operate in challenging environments.”

Rear Adm. Doug Verissimo, the commander of the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group, said that the joint exercises “ensure that we are tactically proficient to meet the challenge of maintaining peace and we are able to continue to show our partners and allies in the region that we are committed to promoting a Free and Open Indo-Pacific.”

The response from Beijing to the US military operations in the South China Sea, a strategic waterway over most of which China claims indisputable sovereignty, was less positive.

“The United States frequently sends vessels and aircraft to the South China Sea to flex its muscles,” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Wang Wenbin said in response.

“This is not conducive to peace and stability in the region,” he argued, stressing that “China will continue to take necessary measures to firmly defend national sovereignty and security and work together with regional countries to safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea.”

The dual carrier operations follow a South China Sea freedom-of-navigation operation that challenged Chinese claims in the Paracels and a Taiwan Strait transit, both of which were conducted by the guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain.

The Chinese military expressed frustration with the FONOP and said that naval and air assets were deployed to drive away the US destroyer, Reuters reported after the Feb. 5 operation.

In response to the McCain’s Taiwan Strait transit on Feb. 4, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said that “China will continue to stay on high alert and is ready to respond to all threats and provocations at any time, and will resolutely safeguard its national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

“We hope the US side will play a constructive role for regional peace and stability, rather than the opposite,” he added.

Last Thursday’s Taiwan Strait transit came after the Chinese military sent a force of eight H-6K bombers, four J-16 fighter jets, and one Y-8 anti-submarine warfare aircraft flying past Taiwan and into the South China Sea.

The Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group entered the contested waterway at the same time, and the Chinese aircraft conducted a simulated attack run, apparently using the American aircraft carrier as a mock target.

The latest dual carrier operations are not a first for the US Navy in the South China Sea, where two carrier strike groups operated together twice last July.

At the time of the dual carrier operations, the Global Times, a nationalist state-affiliated Chinese media outlet, said that the “South China Sea is fully within the grasp of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army,” and “any US aircraft carrier movement in the region is solely at the pleasure of the PLA.”

The incendiary paper pointed to Chinese anti-ship missiles, specifically the DF-21D and DF-26.

The US Navy responded on Twitter, writing that it is “not intimidated” by the Chinese arsenal and that the carriers are there “at our discretion.”