In a rare move the United States Navy has released a photo on Sunday of one of its warships shadowing a Chinese aircraft carrier in the East China Sea, which is said to have occurred days ago.
Currently both countries have carrier strike groups in the region amid heightened tensions between Beijing and Washington. The newly issued photo set shows the USS Mustin shadowing the Liaoning carrier group in what's clearly a strong "message" to China's military.
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 pic.twitter.com/2tv4GF7XIO— Chris Cavas (@CavasShips) April 11, 2021
The image further shows the US ship’s captain, Commander Robert J Briggs, and his deputy Commander Richard D Slye observing the Liaoning in a casual manner.
The Chinese carrier is seen a few thousand meters away...
The South China Morning Post (SCMP) cited a regional military expert to say it was clearly a form of provocative "cognitive warfare" by the US side:
The United States military has engaged in a form of "cognitive warfare" following the latest encounter between its warships and the Chinese navy.
Both countries have deployed aircraft carrier strike groups to the East and South China seas, led by the USS Theodore Roosevelt and the Liaoning, respectively.
According to the key quote, "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, recently of Taiwan’s Naval Academy in Kaohsiung, commented to the SCMP.
"This staged photograph is definitely ‘cognitive warfare’ to show the US doesn’t regard the PLA as an immediate threat," the analyst added.
While such 'shadowing' maneuvers in the region are nothing new, the 'messaging' of the photograph is indeed unusual (with one of the commander's feet up, which can be interpreted as an insult being directed at the Chinese side), suggesting a heightened propaganda campaign is now playing out.