- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 19, 2001

HONG KONG — The U.S. Navy held an unusually large exercise in the South China Sea, three days before sending a battle group into Hong Kong for a routine port call.
There was no immediate response from the Chinese government to the Friday drill by two U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups — described by the U.S. Navy as a "rare meeting at sea."
But one defense analyst said yesterday that it was a show of force to China.
Although Beijing claims the entire South China Sea as its territory and has garrisoned several islands, the United States and other major powers do not recognize the region as Chinese territory.
Other Asian countries — including Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Brunei — also have territorial claims in the area.
The USS Constellation and the USS Carl Vinson conducted the one-day training exercise, a spokesman of the U.S. Navy's 7th Fleet said through the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong yesterday. He spoke on condition of anonymity.
The spokesman said 14 vessels, at least 130 naval aircraft, more than 20 U.S. Air Force aircraft and more than 15,000 personnel joined forces in the exercise.
The operation, which involved tests of complex air traffic control procedures and ship maneuvering, was conducted amid a continuing, large-scale Chinese military drill off its southeast coast opposite Taiwan.
Pro-Beijing media here have dubbed the Chinese war games near Dongshan Island in Fujian province as the country's "largest and most advanced" ever, involving tens of thousands of troops, fighter jets, warships and missiles.
But independent defense analyst Paul Beaver said the two American vessels are "very potent forces."
"The Americans did these things for a reason," the London-based Mr. Beaver said.
"There's no doubt that this is a clear message being sent that America still cares about the Taiwan Strait situation."
The U.S. Navy spokesman, however, denied the drill was intended as a display of force in response to the Chinese war games.
"There is no intent to send a specific message to the People's Republic of China," he said.
Relations between the United States and China have improved since Beijing returned a U.S. plane packed with electronic surveillance equipment that had made an emergency landing April 1 on Hainan after a collision with a Chinese fighter jet sent to intercept it.

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