US Navy’s 100,000-Ton Aircraft Carrier Transits South China Sea Amid Boiling China-Taiwan Tensions

Amid heightened tensions following China’s military drills in the Taiwan Strait, the US Navy demonstrated its naval prowess with the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) aircraft carrier conducting flight operations in the South China Sea. It has a reported displacement of 107,000 tons.

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On May 26, 2024, the US military’s Defense Visual Information Distribution Service (DVIDS) announced the carrier’s transit through the South China Sea. The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, flagship of Carrier Strike Group Nine, is engaged in routine operations within the US 7th Fleet area of operations.

The Navy said that the US 7th Fleet, the largest forward-deployed numbered fleet of the US Navy, plays a critical role in maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific region through regular interactions and operations with allies and partners.

Accompanying the announcement, the military released images showcasing the USS Theodore Roosevelt conducting flight operations, featuring the E-2D Hawkeye and F/A-18F Super Hornet aircraft.

These operations highlight the carrier’s operational readiness and its capability to project power and ensure stability in the region.

SOUTH CHINA SEA (May 25, 2024) U.S. Sailors conduct flight operations with an E-2D Hawkeye, assigned to the “Liberty Bells” of Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 115, aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), May 25, 2024. Theodore Roosevelt, flagship of Carrier Strike Group Nine, is underway conducting routine operations in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations. U.S. 7th Fleet is the U.S. Navy’s largest forward-deployed numbered fleet, and routinely interacts and operates with allies and partners in preserving a free and open Indo-Pacific region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Aaron Haro Gonzalez)
SOUTH CHINA SEA (May 25, 2024) U.S. Sailors conduct flight operations with an E-2D Hawkeye, assigned to the “Liberty Bells” of Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 115, aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), May 25, 2024.

The USS Theodore Roosevelt participated in multiple exercises in the western Pacific earlier this year with key allies, Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines. The ship concluded a port visit to Singapore on May 24 before resuming operations at sea.

In January, the carrier, with the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70), conducted joint drills with the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force’s helicopter destroyer, JS Ise (DDH-182), in the Philippine Sea.

This multi-day exercise included air defense drills, sea surveillance, cross-deck exercises, and tactical maneuvers to boost high-end warfighting capabilities.

During its deployment in the region, the carrier achieved a key milestone by completing its 250,000th successful arrested landing (when an aircraft lands on an aircraft carrier) in the South China Sea.

This achievement underscores the carrier’s ability to operate effectively in international waters and sends a powerful message to allies and adversaries worldwide.

USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71). Photo by Seaman Apprentice Aaron Haro Gonzalez

US Concerned About China’s Military Activities 

The deployment of such a strategic asset amidst the tensions prevailing in the Taiwan Strait is a visible demonstration of American military capability and resolve.

The US State Department has strongly urged China to exercise restraint, cautioning against using routine events as a pretext for military provocations that could lead to further escalation.

The statement from the US State Department comes in response to China’s Joint Sword – 2024A exercises, which concluded after two days of simulated attacks and naval maneuvers around Taiwan.

These exercises, which included bomber flights and shipboarding (an offensive tactic used in naval warfare to come up against or alongside an enemy watercraft and attack by inserting combatants) drills, were condemned by Taiwan as blatant provocations aimed at undermining regional peace and stability.

Throughout the exercises, China’s military released propaganda videos and animations aimed at Taiwan. The Eastern Theatre Command, responsible for the drills, recently shared a video depicting rocket launches, referring to it as “cross-strait lethality” in English.

China’s decision to conduct these military exercises a few days after the inauguration of Taiwan’s new president, Lai Ching-te, has raised eyebrows internationally.

Beijing has labeled Lai as a “separatist,” particularly in response to his inauguration speech, where he emphasized Taiwan’s distinct identity and rejected the notion of subordination to mainland China.

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For his part, Taiwanese President Lai Ching-te has extended an olive branch to China, expressing his willingness to engage in dialogue and cooperation to achieve mutual understanding and reconciliation.

Addressing a gathering of his ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in Tainan, Lai called on China to share the responsibility for regional stability with Taiwan, noting the importance of peaceful coexistence and mutual benefit for both sides.

Lai expressed gratitude for the support from the United States and other countries, highlighting the international community’s rejection of any actions that threaten stability in the Taiwan Strait.

Meanwhile, Taiwan’s defense ministry reported an incident on May 26 involving the discovery of a suspicious cardboard box containing political slogans written in simplified Chinese characters commonly used in China.

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The box, suspected to have been dropped by a drone, was found near the Taiwan-controlled Kinmen islands, raising concerns about potential operations aimed at influencing public opinion.

Drones have become a focal point of concern for Taipei, particularly following an incident in 2022 when Taiwan intercepted a drone near Kinmen after numerous complaints about persistent harassment.