KEY POINTS

  • The U.S. has vowed to continue air and maritime transits through the Taiwan Strait
  • The carrier strike group will, however, stay in the general area to monitor the situation
  • A PLA carrier strike group with a nuclear sub in tow is sailing to the region for the drill

As a belligerent China carries out a massive live-fire drill near Taiwan, reports have emerged from Beijing that the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan has retreated from the contested waters. USS Ronald Reagan, which is currently in West Pacific, was supposedly escorting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's flight to Taiwan.

The carrier's retreat comes as the People's Liberation Army (PLA) set a shooting range to the east of Taiwan, reported South China Morning Post. The report, quoting Chinese state-controlled CCTV, said the USS Ronald Reagan retreated a few hundred kilometers after the PLA set its shooting range to the east of the island for the first time.

Though the warships and their escorts were reportedly ensuring the safety of Pelosi, the U.S. Navy never made any formal announcement in that regard. The 7th Fleet on Thursday maintained that the USS Ronald Reagan was conducting scheduled operations in the Philippine Sea in the Western Pacific, a 5.7 million sq km (2.2 million square-mile) stretch of ocean that includes waters southeast of Taiwan.

"USS Ronald Reagan and her strike group are underway in the Philippine Sea continuing normal, scheduled operations as part of her routine patrol in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific," a U.S. Navy Seventh Fleet spokesperson said.

However, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has directed the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group to stay in the general area in order to monitor the situation, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said at a White House briefing Thursday afternoon.

'We will conduct standard air and maritime transits through the Taiwan Strait in the next few weeks consistent, again, with our long-standing approach to defending the freedom of the seas. and international law," Kirby was quoted by USNI News.

Interestingly, China has sent its aircraft carrier towards the Taiwan Strait to take part in the drills. The aircraft carrier group features at least one nuclear-powered submarine and will take part in its first carrier deterrence exercise. China has two operational carriers - the Liaoning and Shangdong - but it is unclear which one is taking part in the drill.

Zhang Junshe, a senior research fellow at the Naval Research Academy of the PLA, told Global Times that the PLA's drills from Thursday to Sunday around the island of Taiwan will feature the PLA's first aircraft carrier group deterrence exercise, which will establish a maritime multidimensional combat system. "Normally, a nuclear-powered submarine will accompany an aircraft carrier group in its mission," Zhang added.

U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan is seen during its visit to Hong Kong, China November 21, 2018.
U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan is seen during its visit to Hong Kong, China November 21, 2018. Reuters / Yuyang Wang
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