US allies in Asia silent over Trump’s aircraft carrier mix-up

Donald Trump said last week that he had ordered an American carrier strike group to head for Korean waters amid talk that unpredictable North Korea was likely to conduct a nuclear or long-range ballistic missile test. But it has since emerged the Carl Vinson strike group was actually completing training exercises in Australia at the time.
The USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier transits the Sunda Strait, Indonesia on April 15, 2017. Sean M Castellano / Courtesy US navy / Handout via Reuters
The USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier transits the Sunda Strait, Indonesia on April 15, 2017. Sean M Castellano / Courtesy US navy / Handout via Reuters

BEIJING // Washington’s allies in Asia were silent on Wednesday over confusion about a US aircraft carrier strike group that was supposed to be headed toward North Korea in a show of force, but was actually completing training exercises in Australia.

Social media users in China were less quiet, however.

“American imperialism is a paper tiger,” said one user on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter.

“The aircraft carrier was sleep-walking,” said another.

The US military’s Pacific Command explained on Tuesday that the Carl Vinson strike group first had to complete a period of training with Australia.

But it was now “proceeding to the Western Pacific as ordered”, it said.

US president Donald Trump said last week that he had ordered the strike group to head for Korean waters amid talk that unpredictable Pyongyang was likely to conduct a nuclear or long-range ballistic missile test.

“We cannot comment on details of US operation of its assets,” a military official said in Seoul, the capital of South Korea.

North Korea remains technically at war with the South and the United States because the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice and no peace treaty was signed.

Japan, the US’s other main ally in the region, did not comment on the mix-up while China’s foreign ministry declined to comment at a regular briefing.

Singapore-based security expert Ian Storey said countries in the region would have found the confusion over the strike group’s location “unsettling and perplexing”.

“This disconnect between the White House and Pacific Command may be an operational issue but it is distinctly odd,” said Mr Storey, who is based at the ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute.

“The fact that the Carl Vinson strike group was not in the vicinity of the Korean peninsula undermines the Trump administration’s tough approach towards Pyongyang.”

North Korea did not refer to the mix-up but said the US and its allies “should not mess with us”.

“A nuclear powered aircraft carrier that the United States and its puppet group are loudly advertising is nothing more than a pile of scrap metal in the face of our revolutionary forces’ mighty power,” said the Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party.

* Reuters

Published: April 19, 2017 04:00 AM

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