US sends aircraft carriers to the disputed South China Sea

US sends aircraft carriers and assault ships to the disputed South China Sea while Chinese planes – including an anti-submarine Y-8 – continue to lurk in Taiwan’s airspace: Island nation reports 13 Chinese planes on Monday

  • The American vessels are led by the USS Carl Vinson and USS Abraham Lincoln
  • They will carry out exercises in accordance with international law, the US says 
  • China has continued to send war planes into Taiwanese air space, with the island nation reporting 13 sightings on Monday and 39 on Sunday
  • The South China Sea and Taiwan are two of China’s most sensitive concerns
  • Security experts have warned that China and Russia may act in concert to increase their incursions into Taiwan and Ukraine, respectively

Two US aircraft carrier groups have entered the disputed South China Sea as Chinese Air Force planes continue to fly near Taiwan, which China also claims.

The US Navy says two carrier strike groups, led by the USS Carl Vinson and USS Abraham Lincoln, began operations in the South China Sea on Saturday. 

The aircraft carriers were pictured on the Philippine Sea, which lays east of Taiwan and west of the US territories of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. They were joined by two US amphibious assault ships and a Japanese helicopter destroyer. 

On Monday, the Taiwanese Ministry of Defense said 13 Chinese planes flew into the country’s Air Defense Identification Zone. Taiwan reported 39 Chinese Air Force planes in the protected air space on Sunday. 

The South China Sea and self-governing Taiwan are two of China’s most sensitive territorial issues and both are frequent areas of tension between the United States and China. 

The US’s show of force in the South China Sea comes as the Biden administration orders 8,500 US-based troops to stand ready to deploy to Eastern Europe as fears mount that Russian President Vladimir Putin may try to invade Ukraine soon.

Two US aircraft carrier groups entered the disputed South China Sea over the weekend as China continues to fly war planes near Taiwan, which it also claims

The US Navy says its exercises in the South China Sea are being led by the USS Carl Vinson and USS Abraham Lincoln. Above, Navy ships in the South China Sea on Saturday

The aircraft carriers were in the Philippine Sea, which lays east (to the right) of Taiwan and west of the US territories of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.

On Monday, Taiwan, which has its own government but is claimed by China, said 13 Chinese planes flew into its Air Defense Identification Zone. Above, a graphic with their flight path

Russia’s interest in Ukraine and China’s interest in Taiwan could provide an opportunity for the two countries to move in lockstep against US interests, according to a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Seth Cropsey, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a former deputy undersecretary of the Navy. 

‘Although separated by geography, Ukraine and Taiwan occupy similar positions in the Russian and Chinese strategic experience and historical imagination. Capturing each is essential to all other strategic objectives. 

‘For Russia, taking Ukraine would secure its hold on the Black Sea and open other pressure points against vulnerable NATO members Romania and Bulgaria. For the Chinese Communist Party, seizing Taiwan would allow the country to break out of the First Island Chain and conduct offensive operations against Japan, the Philippines and even US territories in the Central Pacific,’ Ropsey wrote.

US Navy ships routinely sail close to Chinese-occupied islands in the South China Sea to challenge Chinese sovereignty claims, as well as through the Taiwan Strait, to Beijing’s anger.

The carrier groups currently in the area will carry out exercises including anti-submarine warfare operations, air warfare operations and maritime interdiction operations to strengthen combat readiness, it said in a statement.

Some security have raised concern that China, led by President Xi Jinping, will try to further push its claims on Taiwan as the US deals with Russia’s possible invasion of Ukraine

The US’s show of force comes as the Biden administration orders 8,500 US-based troops to stand ready to deploy to Eastern Europe as fears mount that Russian President Vladimir Putin may try to invade Ukraine soon. Above, Biden at the White House on Monday

The training will be conducted in accordance with international law in international waters, the Department of Defense added, without giving details.

‘Operations like these allow us to improve our combat credible capability, reassure our allies and partners, and demonstrate our resolve as a Navy to ensure regional stability and counter malign influence,’ it quoted Rear Admiral J.T. Anderson, commander of the strike group led by the USS Abraham Lincoln, as saying.

Both carrier groups were reported on Sunday by the US Navy to have been exercising with Japan’s navy in the Philippine Sea, an area that includes waters to the east of Taiwan.

The news of the US operations coincided with Taiwan reporting the latest mass incursion by China’s air force into its air defense identification zone – 39 aircraft – in an area close to the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands in the northern reaches of the South China Sea. 

Taiwan on Monday reported a further 13 Chinese aircraft in the zone, with one, an anti-submarine Y-8, flying through the Bashi Channel which separates Taiwan from the Philippines and connects the Pacific to the South China Sea, according to a map provided by Taiwan’s Defense Ministry.

China flew 39 warplanes into Taiwanese air space on Sunday, including J-16 fighter jets, seen above

The ministry added that two Chinese J-16Ds took part in the mission, though kept close to China’s coast, a new electronic attack version of the J-16 fighter designed to target anti-aircraft defenses of the sort Taiwan would rely on to fend off an attack.

China has yet to comment, but has previously said such missions are aimed at protecting its sovereignty and to prevent external interference in its sovereignty claims over democratically-governed Taiwan.

Taiwan is a democratically governed island about 100 miles off the coast of mainland China.

The modern island nation was formed in 1949, after the Community Party kicked China’s governing KMT party out of the mainland in the Chinese Civil War.

Taiwan, officially named the Republic of China, is not part of the United Nations. Only 13 countries recognize it as an independent state, according to the New York Times. The United States is not one of them, but the two countries have consular relations, and the US government has committed to protecting Taiwan from a Chinese invasion.

Security sources have previously told Reuters that China’s flights into Taiwan’s defense zone are also likely a response to foreign military activity, especially by US forces, near the island, to warn that Beijing is watching and has the capability to handle any Taiwan contingencies.

Taiwan calls China’s repeated nearby military activities ‘grey zone’ warfare, designed to both wear out Taiwan’s forces by making them repeatedly scramble, and also to test Taiwan’s responses.

The South China Sea, crossed by vital shipping lanes and also containing gas fields and rich fishing grounds, is also claimed by Taiwan, while Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines claim parts.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration is ordering 8,500 US-based troops to stand ready to deploy to Eastern Europe as fears mount that Russia may try to invade Ukraine, the Pentagon announced on Monday.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby declined to give details on what units would make up the 8,500 troops Biden is ordering to stand ready in case of a possible deployment to Eastern Europe

There are already thousands of US troops stationed in Europe, but the recent activity at the Russia-Ukraine border could cause relocation to the Baltic region. Russia has 100,000 troops stationed along the border it shares with Ukraine

‘This is really about getting folks ready to go,’ Defense Department spokesman John Kirby said during a press conference this afternoon. He said the majority of those troops would be ground forces.

He said they would stand ready in case NATO activates the NATO Response Force (NRF) or a ‘deteriorating security environment.’

‘There’s not a mission per se, this is about [Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin] wanting to get ahead of the potential activation and making sure these units have time to prepare,’ Kirby told reporters.

The NATO Response Force is comprised of some 40,000 international troops across land, air, maritime and Special Operations Forces (SOF) components.

Kirby said the move was ‘sending a strong message that we’re committed to NATO and we’re committed to ensuring that our allies have the capabilities they need in case they need to defend themselves.’

He stressed the troops are currently on ‘heightened alert’ posture and have no plans to deploy at this time.

The ‘bulk of them’ would be dedicated to the NRF to be activated if called upon by the Western defensive coalition but added that Austin wants the 8,500 troops to be postured for ‘any other contingencies as well.’

A vast majority of those standby troops will be active duty service members, though Kirby did not rule out the possibility of getting reserve forces assembled as well.

The Pentagon official also side-stepped a question on whether he could definitively rule out sending troops directly to Ukraine. 

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