The United States deployed four navy warships after Russian and Chinese naval forces conducted joint patrols near the Alaskan coast, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).
At least 11 Russian and Chinese ships went close to the Aleutian Islands in the northern US state of Alaska, the WSJ report said, adding that the ships never entered US territorial waters and left. They were shadowed by four US destroyers and P-8 Poseidon aircraft.
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“It is a historical first,” Brent Sadler, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation and retired navy captain, told the US-based publication.
“Given the context of the war in Ukraine and tensions around Taiwan, this move is highly provocative,” he added.
The US Northern Command confirmed the operation, telling the Journal: “Air and maritime assets under our commands conducted operations to assure the defence of the United States and Canada. The patrol remained in international waters and was not considered a threat.”
Alaska’s Republican Senators Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski said they had been in “close contact with leadership from Alaska Command for several days.. and received detailed classified briefings about the foreign vessels … transiting US waters in the Aleutians”.
“This is a stark reminder of Alaska’s proximity to both China and Russia, as well as the essential role our state plays in our national defence and territorial sovereignty.” both said in a statement.
A spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Washington, DC told the WSJ that the patrol was not targeted at Washington.
“According to the annual cooperation plan between the Chinese and Russian militaries, naval vessels of the two countries have recently conducted joint maritime patrols in relevant waters in the western and northern Pacific Ocean. This action is not targeted at any third party and has nothing to do with the current international and regional situation,” Chinese embassy spokesperson Liu Pengyu said.
This is not the first time such an incursion has occurred; according to Sullivan and Murkowski, in 2022, a similar operation took place.
“Last summer, the Chinese and Russian navies conducted a similar operation off the coast of Alaska,” the senators said.
“Given that our response was tepid, I strongly encouraged senior military leaders to be ready with a much more robust response should such another joint Chinese/Russian naval operation occur off our coast,” the statement added.
In September 2021, US Coast Guard cutters in the Bering Sea and North Pacific Ocean encountered Chinese ships about 80km (50 miles) off the Aleutian Islands.
The first recorded encounter with Chinese navy ships sailing in international waters in the Bering Sea was in 2015 when an amphibious ship, a replenishment vessel and three surface combatant ships were reported in the area.