The Pentagon has no plans to send a nuclear powered aircraft carrier (CVN) to mainland China this year, a Defense Department spokesman told reporters on Friday.
“I can tell you that we have no plans for a carrier visit to mainland China this year,” Army Col. Steve Warren told reporters at the Pentagon on Friday.
The comments follow Thursday’s revelation of a letter from Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) chairman Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) addressed to Pentagon leadership advising against a carrier visit to mainland China.
“I strongly believe that a visit by a U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier at this time would not be in the best national security interests of our country,” McCain wrote in the Feb. 2 letter addressed to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work.
“I am concerned that as we have increased our engagements in recent years, China’s actions in the East and South China Seas have only become more bold and coercive.”
The leadership in the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has asked repeatedly for the U.S. to send a carrier to China in part as a training exchange with the PLAN’s own carrier Liaoning.
PLAN head Adm. Wu Shengli suggested a carrier visit in July during a visit of U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert and USNI News understands Chinese leadership has recently renewed calls for a CVN to visit China.
For the Chinese, it would be boon for a U.S. carrier to visit from a public relations standpoint and a practical one.
The visual of the Chinese carrier has sparked concern in neighboring nations and McCain argued that a U.S. carrier visit could, “send the wrong signal to allies and partners throughout the region, including the Japan, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam,” he wrote.
Any joint training exercise that could go along with a visit could also benefit the Chinese.
Liaoning is primarily serving as a technology demonstrator for the PLAN and is far from an asset the Chinese could deploy as an operational ship of war. U.S. help could speed up their carrier operations learning, which up until now, has been helped along by pilots and sailors from Brazil.
Absent the carrier issue, U.S. and Chinese military to military relations have improved over the last five years.
This week Chinese officials visited the Pentagon to discuss additional cooperation.
“The talks highlighted progress in the U.S.-China military-to-military relationship over the past year, also the two sides endorsed a program of bilateral defense contacts and exchanges that builds upon the successes of the 2014 program,” the Pentagon’s Warren said on Friday.
CNO Greenert has visited China several times and maintains a good relationship with the PLAN’s Wu.
Last year, the U.S. invited four PLAN ships to participate in the 2014 Rim of the Pacific exercise held off the coast of Hawaii – a first for China.
In addition to the invited four, China also sent an uninvited surveillance ship to monitor the exercise.