China increases military presence in Taiwan region as coronavirus hits US warships in Pacific
The US military authorities expressed concern recently over the spreading coronavirus pandemic aboard its warships and their fears came to be true. China was found to take advantage of the fact that aircraft-carrier Theodore Roosevelt has been crippled by the virus by sending a number of war vessels close to Taiwan, a disputed territory.
On Saturday, April 11, Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense detected Liaoning, China’s first operational aircraft-carrier, along with five other ships cruising to the east of Taiwan, it said the following day. Japan’s Self-Defense Force was the first to track China’s six-ship battle fleet sailing through the East China Sea towards Okinawa on April 10. Taiwan is located around 750km southwest off Okinawa.
USS Roosevelt and USS Ronald Reagan are the only two American aircraft carrier vessels meant to patrol the Pacific but both the vessels have been sidelined because of the spread of coronavirus on board, thus giving China an advantage to mobilize itself more in the region.
Roosevelt became the center of a storm recently over the outbreak of the disease on board. Its captain, Brett Crozier, wrote a critical letter to various leaders of the Navy seeking help for the ship’s affected sailors but that did not go down well with either the Navy or civilian leadership. Crozier, who also tested positive, was removed from the post. But the move earned a backlash and acting Navy secretary Thomas Modly also stepped down as a consequence of calling Crozier “naive” and “stupid”.
The US Navy announced on Monday that a sailor who tested positive on Roosevelt has died. Nearly 600 sailors on the warship have tested positive for COVID-19.
While Roosevelt is currently docked in Guam, Reagan is anchored in Japan’s Yokosuka and while the officials have cited maintenance as the reason, its crew members have reported the presence of coronavirus patients on board.
The instances of the outbreak on various aircraft carriers (the US has 11 of them in all) made General John Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, caution last week whatever happened on Roosevelt might not be an exception as the US has several vessels deployed all over the world.
With the two American vessels docked, China's Liaoning, which is capable of carrying 24 J-15 fighter jets, is the only aircraft carrier, which is prowling the waters in the western Pacific. The US and China are already at loggerheads over trade and the ongoing pandemic. And now Beijing’s latest activity in the region could spark a fresh military controversy with Washington.
The US, even with its depleted resources, did not budge from responding as its air force and navy made a runway formation of a dozen B-52 bombers on Monday, April 13. The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer the USS Barry (DDG 52) went through the Taiwan Strait as well.
Taiwan also said its armed forces were keeping a track of the Chinese vessels’ movement and “completed relevant actions in response to ensure national security and protect regional peace and stability”.
China and Taiwan are parties to a long-standing dispute over the latter’s legal status. The government of China considers Taiwan to be a part of its territory and warns the outside world against acknowledging the island as a distinct entity even though it has its own constitution and leaders who are elected democratically.
Taiwan has complained of the growing military presence of China near the island over the past few weeks and has asked Beijing to focus on fighting the coronavirus pandemic and not the island.
The US is the worst-affected nation in the world with over 581,000 people getting hit by the virus and more than 23,000 losing their lives.