Earlier this month, a U.S. Navy warship trolled the Chinese navy’s first aircraft carrier battle group, following and filming it from only a short distance away.
The U.S. Navy took video the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) aircraft carrier Liaoning and its accompanying battle group and the video made the rounds on social media, even appearing on China’s Twitter alternative, Weibo.
“#Chinese #carrier LIAONING 16 and task group reportedly as seen from a US #Navy ship,” naval warfare journalist Chris Cavas tweeted.
Commander Robert Briggs, the commanding officer of the U.S. Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin (DDG-89) also posed for a photo with his feet kicked up, watching the Chinese aircraft carrier from a short distance away.
Briggs’ calm look, in the presence of the Chinese aircraft carrier battle group, caught the attention of media outlets in China and Taiwan.
“In the photo, Commander Briggs looks very relaxed with his feet up watching the Liaoning ship just a few thousand yards away, while his deputy is also sitting beside him, showing they take their PLA counterparts lightly,” Lu Li-shih, a former instructor at Taiwan’s Naval Academy in Kaohsiung, told the South China Morning Post. “This staged photograph is definitely ‘cognitive warfare’ to show the US doesn’t regard the PLA as an immediate threat.”
Zhou Chenming, a researcher at the Beijing-based Yuan Wang think tank and military science and technology institute also told the South China Morning Post, “Both sides understand that there is a big gap between the US and Chinese aircraft carrier strike groups.”
Cavas tweeted, “Very unusual image of the commanding officer and executive officer of #destroyer USS #MUSTIN DDG89 as they shadow #Chinese #carrier #LIAONING 16 in the Philippine Sea on 4 April. US #Navy rarely acknowledges both its efforts to shadow Chinese ships and Chinese shadowing US ships.”
The USS Mustin has been operating with the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group. The U.S. aircraft carrier group has been operating in the South China Sea in recent days, just south of Taiwan.
Last week, Chinese warplanes appeared to fly practice attack runs on the U.S. carrier group, as it sailed north of the Philippines in the direction of the southern coast of Taiwan.
While Taiwan governs itself as an independent nation, China maintains a claim of sovereignty over the island and has continued to fly warplanes around the island on a near-daily basis. U.S. officials have increasingly warned of the potential for China to attempt to invade Taiwan within a matter of a few years.
The U.S. Navy regularly operates warships around Taiwan and often sails through the Taiwan Strait, which separates Taiwan from the Chinese mainland as part of its freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs). The Navy carries out FONOPs to assert navigational rights and reassure allies.