US aircraft carriers are leading multi-deck military exercises with Japan in a show of force east of Taiwan

Seoul, South Korea (CNN) — A dozen US and Japanese warships, including two US aircraft carriers, were in a show of military force in the Philippine Sea east of Taiwan this week.

Analysts say the joint exercise shows the U.S. Navy can respond to contingencies in a wide swath of Asian waters, where tensions remain high with China, even as hostilities face conflict in the Middle East. have to do.

The U.S. Navy aircraft carriers USS Carl Vinson and USS Theodore Roosevelt were joined by the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force helicopter destroyer JS Ise, seven U.S. guided missile destroyers and two U.S. cruisers. The Navy calls this a Multiple Deck Event (MLDE). ,

“The United States and Japan are uniquely able to rapidly assemble multiple large-deck naval forces in support of mutual security interests in the Indo-Pacific,” the Navy said in a statement.

military exercises

An F/A-18E Super Hornet takes off from the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson during exercises in the Philippine Sea on Jan. 31. (Credit: US Navy)

According to the US Navy statement, dozens of warships conducted “defense exercises, maritime surveillance, cross-deck exercises and tactical maneuvers” to advance a unique, high-level warfare capability.

According to a statement from Japan’s military, the exercises began this Monday and were scheduled to end this Thursday.

S in Singapore. Colin Koh, a researcher at the Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said that although exercises are regularly conducted in the region, the timing of this show of force is significant.

Koh said, “Earlier there were fears that the flare-up in the Middle East would divert America’s strategic attention from the Western Pacific region.”

“Regardless of what is happening in the Middle East, it was seen as a demonstration of the United States’ commitment to its strategic focus in the region,” he said. He said the third US aircraft carrier in the Asia-Pacific is the USS Ronald Reagan. , was now in Japan.

Meanwhile, according to the USNI Fleet Tracker, only one US aircraft carrier – the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower – is in the Middle East, where Houthi rebels have faced a series of attacks on US naval assets and commercial ships in the Red Sea, despite several attacks. Had to do. US and British attacks on the group’s infrastructure inside Yemen.

Hawaii-based analyst Carl Schuster, former director of operations for the U.S. Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center, said conducting joint exercises in the Philippine Sea shows the U.S. Navy can quickly bring forces to areas where China’s naval units have been active. Are. recent months.

Schuster said, “As an exercise, it demonstrates aircraft carrier mobility. Geopolitically, it also highlights the airline’s ability to respond to a variety of contingencies across a wide region.”

Potential sources of maritime stress

That wide area reaches islands and reefs in the South China Sea, where there have been recent skirmishes between Chinese and Filipino ships. It also extends to the democratically ruled island of Taiwan in the west, where increased Chinese naval and air activity has been reported in surrounding waters since elections in January.

And it extends northwest to the East China Sea and the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, which China calls the Diaoyus, which Beijing claims as its sovereign territory and where, according to Japan, it has conducted almost continuous operations over the past year. Coast Guard presence maintained. ,

All of these areas are potential military flashpoints between China and the United States and its allies.

But Taiwan has been in the headlines since its Jan. 13 election, in which voters gave the island’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party a historic third consecutive presidential victory, ignoring China’s warnings that its re-election would increase the risk of conflict.

Beijing responded immediately after the vote, saying: “Taiwan is part of China.”

China’s ruling Communist Party considers Taiwan part of its territory despite never controlling it, and Chinese leader Xi Jinping has not ruled out using force to bring the island under Beijing’s control.

Admiral John Aquilino, head of the US Indo-Pacific Command, told a conference in Hawaii after the Taiwan election that he expected Beijing to show its displeasure over the outcome of the vote.

“The coercive pressure campaign against Taiwan continues and we will be keeping an eye on it after the election,” Aquilino said at the Pacific Forum.

“I’m not sure what they’re going to do, but I expect some show of force against Taiwan in the short term.”

The US admiral also highlighted the importance of exercises such as the joint exercise between the United States and Japan taking place this week.

“Establishing the capability to be able to move forces forward, to be able to sustain forces, to be able to train and operate with our allies and partners in their home region provides an asymmetric advantage,” Aquilino said.

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