A clear message for Beijing: American and French fleets are crossing in the South China Sea

A clear message for Beijing: American and French fleets are crossing in the South China Sea


The US aircraft carrier USS Nimitz participated in a rare joint exercise with the aircraft carrier USS Roosevelt in the South China Sea on February 9, 2021. (Source: FT)
The US aircraft carrier USS Nimitz participated in a rare joint exercise with the aircraft carrier USS Roosevelt in the South China Sea on February 9, 2021. (Source: FT)

Two American aircraft carriers accompanied by their flotillas have been crossing since Tuesday, February 9 in the South China Sea. This is the largest American deployment in this area claimed by Beijing for months. At almost the same time, a nuclear attack submarine and a French surface vessel were there. A political message that Washington intends to send to Beijing and its allies in the Indo-Pacific region. This Thursday, Joe Biden raised the subject directly with Xi Jinping in his first meeting with the Chinese president since his arrival at the White House.The aircraft carriers USS Theodore Roosevelt and USS Nimitz were accompanied by guided-missile cruisers USS Bunker Hill and USS Princeton and destroyers USS Russell and USS John Finn. Their presence aims to demonstrate the ability of the US fleet to maintain the peace and its commitment to uphold the principle of a “free and open” Indo-Pacific region , the US Navy said in a statement. “The buildings and planes of the two attack groups coordinate their operations in an area where [maritime] traffic is very dense to demonstrate the ability of the US fleet to operate in challenging environments,” the statement said.“Through operations like this, we want to ensure that we are effective in meeting the challenges of peacekeeping and continue to show our partners and allies in the region that we are committed to promoting.” peace in a free and open Indo-Pacific region, ” said Admiral Doug Verissimo, commander of Attack Group 9.Such a show of force in the area by the United States is unprecedented for seven months, when a combined operation of two aircraft carriers in the South China Sea itself became a first for six years. At the same time, the American guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain passed through the Taiwan Strait on Thursday (February 4th).Beijing reacted rather moderately, using its usual rhetoric. ”  The United States frequently sends boats and planes to the South China Sea in order to show its strength, which is not favorable to regional peace and its stability, ” said Wang Wenbin, spokesman for the ministry. of Foreign Affairs in Beijing. China will continue to take the necessary measures to safeguard national sovereignty and security, and will work together with countries in the region to firmly maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea. “


The entry of these two American naval groups comes exactly the day after the presence in these same waters of the French nuclear attack submarine Émeraude and the Seine support building. For Collin Koh, a researcher at the School of International Rajaratnam Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, quoted by the South China Morning Post, the American fleet wanted to send the message of its willingness to operate “wherever it wishes. and where international law permits, whatever the threat from Beijing ”. As for France, it intended “to show the French flag in support of the interests of Paris in the Indo-Pacific region” where France “considers itself an independent actor”in order to present an alternative for countries that do not wish to align too closely with China or the United States.“This extraordinary patrol has just completed a passage in the South China Sea. A striking proof of the capacity of our national navy to deploy far and for a long time in connection with our Australian, American or Japanese strategic partners ”, for her part tweeted the French Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly.

France, an ally of the United States, particularly within NATO, and which has important exclusive economic zones in the Pacific because of its overseas lands, has considered for several years that the Indo-Pacific zone and the defense of the freedom of navigation are priorities. “Why such a mission? To enrich our knowledge of this area and to affirm that international law is the only rule that is valid, whatever the sea where we navigate, ” the Minister developed on Twitter.


As for US President Joe Biden, he, in a gesture of courtesy, chose the opening in China of the festivities that traditionally mark the Lunar New Year to finally phone this Thursday, February 11 to his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, whom he made. lagging behind nearly three weeks since his inauguration on January 20.But if the Chinese number one hoped to receive from Washington the expression of a desire for appeasement in Sino-American relations, it was at its expense. Indeed, Joe Biden took advantage of this interview to urge his interlocutor to respect human rights, enumerating the repression against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, the situation in Hong Kong and the multiple Chinese military maneuvers aimed at intimidating Taiwan.Xi Jinping replied that these various issues were all within China’s internal affairs and warned Joe Biden that the continuation of the confrontation between the two largest economic powers on the planet would constitute for them “a disaster”.Recall the terms Joe Biden used against Xi Jinping on February 26, 2020 on the American television channel CBS: this man is “a thug”, “a guy who does not have an ounce of democracy in his bones of his skeleton ”. Sunday February 9, he repeated these words, except for that of “thug”.