US dual carrier drills in S. China Sea ‘symbolic, not militarily practical’
Published: Feb 09, 2021 10:13 PM

File photo taken on Sept. 3, 2015 shows DF-26 missiles attending a military parade in Beijing, capital of China. (Xinhua)

The US dual aircraft carrier operations in the South China Sea on Tuesday have more symbolic and political meanings rather than military significance, as the US is fully aware of the power of China's anti-ship ballistic missiles, Chinese military experts said.  

The Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group conducted dual carrier operations with the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group in the South China Sea on Tuesday, according to a statement released on the website of the US 7th Fleet on the same day.

In a move aimed at demonstrating the US Navy's ability to operate in challenging environments, the strike groups conducted a multitude of exercises aimed at increasing interoperability between assets as well as command and control capabilities, the statement said.

In response to the exercises, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at Tuesday's routine press conference that China will continue to take necessary measures to resolutely safeguard national sovereignty and security, and also peace and stability in the South China Sea together with other countries in the region. 

Xu Guangyu, a senior adviser to the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, told the Global Times on Tuesday that the US exercises are a move by some hardliners in the new US administration aimed at pressuring China and displaying strength to US allies in the region, demonstrating a stance that the US will not back down on China easily.

The last time the US conducted dual carrier operations in the South China Sea was in July 2020, when the Ronald Reagan and Nimitz carrier strike groups twice operated together in the region, the US 7th Fleet said.

Shortly after the exercises by the US carriers in 2020, the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) reportedly launched multiple anti-ship ballistic missiles into the South China Sea in a military exercise, showing the PLA's ability to hit maritime targets with powerful ballistic missiles, reportedly the DF-26 and DF-21D, from multiple directions in coordinated, saturation attacks against which there is no defense, analysts said.

The US is fully aware that the PLA's "aircraft carrier killer" missiles can cover the entire South China Sea, and in the event of a war, US carriers need to stay away from the region beyond the range of Chinese missiles, Xu said, noting that the US also knows neither side would go that far and start a war.

US President Joe Biden said in a recent interview with US media that "We need not have a conflict, but there is going to be extreme competition" with China.

Nobody wants a war, and US carriers' exercises this time are only demonstrating a stance, with more political than military meaning, Xu said.

As a force from outside the region, the US has continually stirred up trouble in the South China Sea, while countries within the region focus on cooperation and mutual benefit, analysts said, noting that the US is the one that should be accountable for militarization in the South China Sea.

The US dual aircraft carrier operations also come just as China prepares to enter the Spring Festival holidays, as the Chinese top leader recently called for enhanced combat readiness during the period.

Other militaries should not have the illusion that they can make provocative moves during the holidays without meeting PLA countermeasures, analysts said.