The USS Theodore Roosevelt and USS Nimitz Carrier Strike Groups have just launched an exercise the South China Sea. This is the first South China Sea freedom of navigation operation involving two carriers since July.
The move met a typical response from Beijing where Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin stated that US activities in the region are counterproductive to regional peace and stability and that:
“China will continue to take necessary measures to firmly safeguard national sovereignty and security and work with countries in the region to firmly safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea.”
The move comes in conjunction with a number of other freedom of navigation deployments. The US destroyer USS John McCain had recently been operating near the Parcel Islands disputed by China, Taiwan and Vietnam. In addition, the French Minister of Defense announced that the French nuclear attack submarine Émeraude and the naval support ship Seine have recently been operating in the South China Sea as well.
In a tweet about the French deployment, the country’s Defense Minister Florence Parly tweeted that:
“This extraordinary patrol has just completed a passage in the South China Sea. A striking proof of the capacity of our French Navy to deploy far away and for a long time together with our Australian, American and Japanese strategic partners.”
These developments come during a period of increase tensions in Western Pacific waters. The CCP has recently introduced a law which allows China’s Coast Guard to use weapons in waters claimed by the PRC, which has caused concern to some of the nations who have boundary disputes with China. Moreover, it follows rhetoric from Xi Jinping urging the armed forces to remain ready over the course of the Lunar New Year holiday as well as a period of intensified tensions involving Taiwan.