Chinese military strategists Sunday gave a mixed interpretation of a planned joint military drill by the US and South Korean navies, reportedly due to start today in the Yellow Sea, with some warning that it would risk challenging China's strategic bottom line and its coastal defense, while some others suggested a spontaneous war game taking a US aircraft carrier as a target.
South Korea and the United States agreed to stage joint naval drills today in the Yellow Sea off South Korea's western coast in what analysts say is a show of force following the alleged North Korea torpedo attack on a South Korean warship, Seoul's Yonhap News Agency reported June 18.
The exercises will address scenarios, such as thwarting special forces' infiltration into the South, detecting North Korean submarines, and combined operations of the Navy and Air Force, a military official of the South was quoted by Yonhap as saying.
However, it was unclear whether the exercise would take place as reported. But the planned action, in which a US aircraft carrier is due to participate, triggered a wave of public outcry in China.
The two governments were originally scheduled to hold naval exercises in early June but postponed them to later this month to "ensure that the joint exercise is better organized and more effective," South Korean Defense Minister Kim Tae Young said, according to the Chosun Ilbo newspaper.
According to the Korea Times, the US is likely to send the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USGeorge Washington, as well as nuclear-powered submarines, an Aegis destroyer and amphibious assault landing ships.
The 100,000-ton aircraft carrier, based at Yokosuka in Japan, can accommodate about 6,250 crew members and carry some 90 fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, the paper said.
It was not known whether the US carrier has been dispatched. Earlier reports suggested that the Obama administration was debating whether to send the carrier to the Yellow Sea, as such a maneuver could anger China or cause North Korea to react violently, the Washington Post said on June 19.
Japan's Mainichi Daily reported Thursday that the George Washington left Yokosuka on June 14. Following the completion of Japan-US joint military exercises, it would head to the Yellow Sea.
According to Chinese military analysts, the detection and attack range of the George Washington is about 1,000 kilometers.
If it enters the Yellow Sea, China's territorial sea, the entire North China region and the majority of Liaodong Peninsula would be within its range.
China's foreign ministry voiced its concern Tuesday about the report that a US aircraft carrier may join the military exercise with South Korea and would closely follow developments.
"Under the current situation, the relevant parties should exercise restraint and refrain from escalating tensions and harming the interests of the countries in the region," said Qin Gang, the military's spokesman, at a regular news briefing.
The Yellow Sea is situated between the Korean Peninsula and China's Shandong Peninsula, where some of China's naval and air bases are located.
The joint US-South Korea military exercises are not uncommon. But they usually take place off South Korea's eastern coast.
An exception occurred in 1994 when the US sent its aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk to the Yellow Sea, tracking down a Chinese navy submarine, which had just finished exercises.
Chen Hu, chief editor of World Military Affairs magazine, argued that a direct military threat from the naval drills is not the biggest concern of China, as the Chinese military has the ability to counter the threat from its fleet, headed by a larger carrier, which the US is also aware of.
"The move by the US is rather a military showing-off to deter its rivals and win over its allies. The publicity has successfully stirred up the atmosphere and caught public attention," Chen told the Global Times.
These techniques are frequently used by the US before joint exercises with other countries, he added.
Besides stating the government's stance on the issue through diplomacy, China should also make a military response and hold exercises in the same waters, Chen suggested.
"The US carrier-headed fleet would be a perfect target for military exercises. We can get a lot of information through observing and simulation of counterattack," Chen said.
Yin Zhuo, a senior researcher at the navy's Equipment Research Center said, "It's not easy to spy on them, which requires the deployment of early warning aircraft, ferret aircraft and land-based reconnaissance measures."
Yin added that the move exerts more diplomatic and political pressure on China than a military one.
Li Daguang, of the National Defense University, said the possible deployment of the US aircraft carrier is a test of China's strategic bottom line.
Meanwhile, Li warned against an over-interpretation of the matter, especially when China-US military ties are tense.
"The joint exercises are mainly aimed at deterring North Korea, but the US should consider the interests of concerned countries as the drills are in sensitive waters," Li added.
Military exchanges between Beijing and Washington have been stalled since the Obama administration notified Congress in January of plans to sell Taiwan up to $6.4 billion in arms.
Earlier this month, China also rejected a proposed visit by US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
Kang Juan contributed to this story