Actions v. Words, International Edition

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USS George Washington

There’s been a simmering dispute between the U.S. and China over repeated U.S. declarations that the aircraft carrier USS George Washington would sail into the Yellow Sea – also known as the West Sea due to its location west of the Korean peninsula — to caution North Korea to behave. After months of Washington bluster, they’re smiling in Beijing today. Here’s why:

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell, August 5:

We are also, obviously, planning other maritime and air exercises between our two [South Korean and U.S.] militaries as part of the sequence we had talked about before. They will be taking place in both the East and West Sea, and both the Sea of Japan and the Yellow Sea. They will once again involve the USS George Washington. And the USS George Washington will exercise in the Yellow Sea, in the West Sea. But I don’t have for you yet dates when that exercise involving that aircraft carrier will take place. But that will be — part of the sequence of exercises that we conduct will be a return of the — of the George Washington, including exercising in the Yellow Sea.

Morrell, September 9:

The USS George Washington will indeed exercise in the Yellow Sea again. We have suggested that will take place. We have said that will take place. I don’t think we have determined a date yet, but rest assured, the George Washington will operate in the Yellow Sea, as it does in other international waters. It’s not an affront to the Chinese. It’s not meant to send a message to the Chinese. It’s meant to send a message to the North Koreans about their behavior. But clearly we believe that we have the right to operate in any and all international waters, respecting, of course, territorial boundaries. But that is our intent, for the George Washington to return to the Yellow Sea, just as it’s operated there in the past. But I’ll — we’ll get back to you at a later date with precisely when that will next take place.”

White House Asian defense chief Jeff Bader, September 23:

We regard the Yellow Sea as international waters and we are in the wake of the sinking of the Cheonan. We have demonstrated our commitment to the defense of South Korea and the need for deterrence, and will continue to do so by exercises on both sides of the Korean Peninsula.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, September 29:

There has been an assertion that we shouldn’t operate in the Yellow Sea. It’s international waters; we’re going to operate in the Yellow Sea.

…and from Korea’s JoongAng Daily, today:


A joint exercise between the U.S. and South Korea, which was scheduled to take place late this month in the Yellow Sea, will be cancelled, according to South Korean government sources yesterday.

“The joint exercise planned for late this month will not be happening for some time,” said a high-ranking government source.

The source added that there will be no military drills involving U.S. aircraft carriers this year.

The decision follows criticism from the Chinese government, which has previously expressed its disapproval of the deployment of nuclear-powered supercarrier USS George Washington.