Nimitz Reports ‘Very Professional’ Interactions Despite US-Chinese Tensions
Even as Beijing rejects a mil-to-mil hotline, a carrier’s Pacific deployment sees no untoward run-ins.
ABOARD THE USS NIMITZ—Recent close calls between Chinese and American ships and aircraft have underscored the tension between the Chinese and U.S. military, but not all interactions between the two militaries are unsafe or unprofessional.
The USS Nimitz, now on its way home to Bremerton, Washington, had “several” interactions with Chinese military aircraft and ships during its seven-month deployment to the western Pacific. But every one was “very polite and very professional,” the aircraft carrier’s commander, Capt. Craig Sicola, told journalists. “I would say that probably some of the most professional interactions I’ve had in my 29 years [in the Navy] are with them.”
Sicola said he anticipated more tension because of the strained relationship between the two countries. But, he said, the Chinese “reached out, and their scripts are very professional, just like we’ve arranged.”
Sicola’s comments came as U.S. leaders work to restore military-to-military communications with China, despite repeated refusals from Beijing. “It is absolutely vital that we have these kinds of communications,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said following a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in China this week.
China stopped regular communication with the U.S. military in August, following a visit to Taiwan by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Recent incidents—including the USS Chung-Hoon being cut off by a Chinese military vessel in the Taiwan Strait—have highlighted the need for a closer connection. The Chung-Hoon is part of the Nimitz strike group, but the aircraft carrier was not nearby when the ships nearly collided.
The Nimitz participated in several exercises with other countries during the deployment, including one with the Japanese and South Korean militaries. “To see those two countries come together with us, that is a testament to the stability that we have, the economic stability in this region is extremely important for everyone,” Sicola said.
While people generally see an aircraft carrier and focus on its fighter jets, bombs, and missiles, Sicola said he tells his crew that their “No. 1 mission is peace and diplomacy.”
“I don’t want to fight. I’ve spent a whole career fighting,” he said. “If we come back from this deployment and nothing unprofessional or unsafe happened, and nobody shot at anybody, this is the biggest win you could ask for.”
Rear Adm. Jennifer Couture, who took command of the Nimitz strike group a few days after the Chung-Hoon close call, said the deployment’s purpose was “to just deter those who might prevent us from taking advantage of the freedom of navigation, to deter aggression, for the benefit of all people.”
Navy and Pentagon leaders have “made it clear” that the Indo-Pacific “is a place where there’s competition: competition for resources, and competition for dominance,” she said. “For us, sailing around the waters of this area, far from home, demonstrates our commitment to fly, sail, and operate anywhere international law allows—for all nations, not just America.”