A United States destroyer had a close encounter with China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, near the South China Sea last week as tensions in the region escalated to new heights.
The Chinese aircraft carrier was sighted by U.S. naval officers on the USS Mustin, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, on April 4. The aircraft carrier bore the pennant number 16, according to a photo released by the U.S. Navy.
The picture was taken from the bridge wings of the American destroyer in the Philippine Sea. The Global Times, a Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece, confirmed that the warship in the photo was the Liaoning.
A Chinese combat group led by the Liaoning was conducting exercises in waters near Taiwan, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army said on April 5, two days after the USS Mustin showed up near Shanghai and the Yangtze River estuary before heading south.
The encounter on April 4 was the first between U.S. and Chinese warships in recent years and allowed both sides to gather firsthand intelligence about each other, said Antony Wong, the president of the Macau International Military Association.
The U.S. navy could have used the opportunity to obtain valuable information by taking photographs of the Liaoning’s parts and features, such as its electronic devices, radar and aircrafts, Wong said.
It was rare for the two ships to meet at sea, Wong said, adding that the vessels remained at a safe distance.
The USS Mustin had been shadowing the Liaoning from the East China Sea into the Philippine Sea, sending a message to Beijing that Washington intended to monitor the movements of PLA warships, said Taiwan-based defense researcher Su Tzu-yun.
The U.S. might step up its warnings by sending three U.S. carrier battle groups that include the USS Theodore Roosevelt, USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and USS Ronald Reagan to the South China Sea this month, said Su, the director of the Institute of National Defense and Security Research in Taiwan.
The carrier battle groups might be joined by three U.S. amphibious assault ships housing F-35 fighter jets, Su said, adding that the British carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth will also soon be stationed in the Western Pacific region.
The Chinese navy’s lack of combat experience makes it inferior to the U.S. side, Su said. The U.S. aircraft groups also have an edge in terms of the range, functions and number of stealth aircrafts onboard, Wong added.
Mainland media outlets reported that China’s homegrown aircraft carrier the Shandong might take part in its first drill and join the Liaoning to form a dual-carrier task force this year.
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