The Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning has sailed near the Japanese island of Okinawa and the US territory of Guam over the past two weeks. The naval operations came at the end of a year which saw several military escalations between Washington and Beijing.
Tokyo reported that the Liaoning and at least four other large warships operated in waters near Okinawa, adding that the ships remained about 150 miles offshore for several days. While in the area, the Chinese carrier conducted over 200 takeoff and landing drills.
On Thursday, Japanese officials confirmed that, after sailing away from Japan, the flotilla then traveled near the US territory of Guam. According to the Global Times, a Chinese newspaper closely linked with the country’s ruling Communist Party, the operation "showed that the Chinese carrier is ready to defend the country against potential US attacks launched from there."
The relationship between Washington and Beijing has continued to deteriorate in 2022, perhaps best exemplified by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan last summer and a massive round of Chinese military drills launched near the island in retaliation.
President Joe Biden has further fueled tensions by repeatedly asserting that US forces would come to Taiwan’s defense in the event of a Chinese invasion. However, Taiwan is not recognized as a sovereign nation under US law, which instead endorses Beijing’s claim to the island and calls for a position of "strategic ambiguity" towards Taipei.
While a number of past US administrations have refrained from openly saying whether Washington would intervene against China on Taiwan’s behalf, Biden has increasingly eroded that position, prompting senior White House officials to walk back his statements on multiple occasions. Proponents of strategic ambiguity contend that the policy acts as a deterrent against any future attack by Beijing, and stops short of emboldening Taipei to take aggressive actions of its own.
Biden recently met with Chinese President Xi on the sidelines of the G20 summit. While the goal was to seek to resolve various outstanding issues between the two powers, both countries continue to conduct provocative military exercises.
Tokyo – which is part a three-way security pact with Washington and Seoul created to confront Beijing – has also escalated regional tensions by announcing an end to its post-WWII defense-oriented military and plans to become the world’s third-highest weapons spender over the next five years. Moreover, the United States has worked to persuade its allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to take part in its operations in Chinese-claimed waters, while Canada recently announced plans to conduct more military transits through the disputed Taiwan Strait.
Beijing has significantly deepened its security and diplomatic ties with Moscow this year, with the two allies striking a "no limits strategic partnership" in the days before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February. The Asian superpowers have conducted joint drills in the waters and skies around both Japan and Taiwan in recent weeks, having just wrapped up naval exercises in the East China Sea on Tuesday. Another round of wargames on December 14 saw Chinese warships cross multiple Japanese straits as Russian fighters and bombers flew near Japanese airspace over the Sea of Japan.
Underscoring the rising hostilities, earlier this week the Pentagon released a video, captured on December 21, showing a Chinese fighter that approached an American spy plane over the South China Sea, accusing the pilot of performing an "unsafe maneuver" that risked a collision.