SEOUL – The USS George Washington aircraft carrier is scheduled to return to the waters off South Korea this month, a move that in recent years has upset Chinese and North Korean officials.
The U.S., South Korea and Japan will conduct a two-day, trilateral naval exercise June 21-22 in the waters south of the Korean peninsula, the Pentagon announced Thursday. The exercise will focus on improving relations and communications among the three navies, the announcement said.
The Pentagon added, “The three navies will conduct this exercise beyond the territorial waters of any coastal nation.”
Following that, the U.S. and South Korean navies will conduct “a routine carrier operation” in the Yellow Sea, west of South Korea, from June 23-25.
There were no immediate reactions from North Korea or China to news of the two upcoming naval exercises.
The George Washington Carrier Striker Group will make a port call in Busan, on the southern tip of the peninsula, following its participation in the two exercises. In the wake of North Korea’s 2010 sinking of the Cheonan warship — which killed 46 South Korean sailors — the George Washington took part in a four-day naval and sea exercise in the Sea of Japan, or East Sea as it is known in the South.
That exercise, U.S. and South Korean officials said at the time, was “designed to send a clear message to North Korea that its aggressive behavior must stop.”
Then, after North Korea shelled Yeonpyeong Island on Nov. 23, 2010, killing four people on the tiny South Korean island near the disputed maritime border between the two Koreas, the George Washington was dispatched to the Yellow Sea.
Jeffrey Bader — the president’s former senior director for Asian affairs on the National Security Council — wrote in his book, “Obama and China’s Rise: An Insider’s Account of America’s Asia Strategy,” that sending the carrier was done with a purpose.
“The deployments culminating in the Yellow Sea exercise sent an important message to Beijing: North Korean provocations would induce U.S. and South Korean responses not at all to their liking.
“Washington hopes this would encourage China to restrain North Korea in the future,” he wrote.