The drills come three days after the US Navy conducted joint naval exercises with the South Korean and Canadian navies on Thursday in the Yellow Sea to celebrate the 73rd anniversary of the Battle of Incheon during the Korean war.
“This multilateral joint training of the South Korean, US and Canadian navies served as an opportunity to further improve our readiness and capabilities to respond to threats from North Korea,” said Commander Kim Hyeon-seok, the captain of the ROKS Seoul.
The USS America is an amphibious assault ship capable of carrying vertical take-off and landing aircraft, including the F-35B stealth fighter, allowing it to take part in joint air and sea operations.
It was the first time any US naval vessel with aircraft carrier-level capacity entered the Yellow Sea in 10 years. The last major US operation in the Yellow Sea was in 2013, when a carrier group led by the USS George Washington took part in a joint exercise.
Since then, it has only sent smaller groups or single ships into the waters that, at their narrowest point, separate South Korea from China by less than 230km (143 miles) – partly to avoid backlash from Beijing.
Collin Koh, a senior fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said China’s decision to conduct drills in the Yellow Sea was “not surprising” as it was a tit-for-tat exercise to demonstrate its displeasure about Washington’s drills near its coast.
He stressed that the Yellow Sea and Bohai Gulf were relatively secure areas for Beijing, compared to waters such as the South China Sea and East China Sea, which have more international maritime traffic and foreign naval presence.
“Foreign military exercises tend to take place in the … western Pacific Rim waters, not so in the Yellow Sea and Bohai Gulf.”
On the plans for the joint drills, the nationalist tabloid Global Times accused the US of being a “troublemaker that sabotages peace and stability in the region”.
“It is laughable to say that the US exercise in the Yellow Sea could form a so-called deterrence against China because any hostile target in the Yellow Sea would be directly exposed to PLA air, maritime and ground fire,” the Global Times reported, quoting an analyst.
Washington has recently increased air force activity over the Yellow Sea following a series of North Korean missile launches as tensions with China intensified in the western Pacific.
In August, the US conducted an air force drill in the Yellow Sea involving strategic assets, including a B-1B bomber, as a part of the “Ulchi Freedom Shield” exercise. The annual joint military exercise between the US and South Korea was revived last year after being suspended from 2019 during the administration of former South Korean president Moon Jae-in.
The PLA also recently conducted a series of military exercises near the Taiwan Strait. On Wednesday, the Taiwanese defence ministry said the PLA navy, including its Shandong aircraft carrier, staged one of its biggest-ever drills in the western Pacific.