U.S. Navy Warship Shadows China Aircraft Carrier in Video

Footage posted to Chinese social media this week has captured rare glimpses of a Chinese aircraft carrier conducting operational drills in the South China Sea—while a U.S. Navy destroyer watches from afar.

Shared by a Chinese fisherman to the short-video platform Kuaishou, the clips show People's Liberation Army J-15 strike fighters landing on China's aircraft carrier Liaoning during an exercise by the Paracel Islands last Friday.

The fishing boat crew member, surnamed Ma, also posted videos showing one of the PLA Navy's Type 052D destroyer escorts in the vicinity, but the footage is notable for the inclusion of a distant warship that shadows the Chinese carrier group from behind.

The military vessel is most likely a U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, maritime experts told Newsweek on Wednesday.

Collin Koh, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, noted the class's distinct mast, which is raked backward and can be seen in the silhouette in the distance.

Ma, who did not give his full name, said he filmed Liaoning's operational drills on the morning and afternoon of April 16 before his trawler left the Paracel Islands ahead of a planned live-fire exercise the next day.

"All the fishing vessels in the area left on the evening of April 16," he said, adding that he lost signal on his phone after the Chinese military shut down the cell towers on Lincoln Island, which he referenced with the Chinese name "Dong Dao."

He posted his videos online after returning to the port city of Sanya in southern China.

His Kuaishou footage has attracted some attention for its candid view of Chinese fighter jets landing on the deck of Liaoning, which he identifies from its hull number, 16. China's first carrier is also distinguishable from its ski-jump—a feature shared by its sister ship Shandong.

Some social media users, who also picked up on the American warship's appearance, have asked Ma to delete the footage, accusing him of revealing "state secrets" by sharing the whereabouts of the carrier task group.

However, the same exercise around the Paracels was likely revealed already last week, when a Twitter user shared footage and images—shot from the opposite side—showing a J-15 landing on the aircraft carrier.

The video, which was live from April 15 until the account went private, appears to have been made around the same time as Ma's recordings. The user claimed to be a sailor onboard a U.S. Navy vessel monitoring Liaoning, which had entered the South China Sea following drills in the Pacific.

The user's tweets remained protected at the time of writing. Newsweek was not able to independently verify the account holder's identity.

Reports have speculated that the warship is likely the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Mustin, which triggered a week of debates on both sides of the Taiwan Strait after the U.S. Navy released an image showing the ship's commanding and executive officers casually watching Liaoning during an encounter on April 4.

Last week's Twitter video, which gained traction over the weekend, elicited a response from China's nationalistic tabloid the Global Times.

In an article published on Sunday, it said the PLA Navy "showed high confidence and combat preparedness" by conducting the fighter jet exercise in view of the U.S. warship, which the author accused of "stalking."

The state-owned tabloid identified Type 052D destroyer Chengdu and Type 055 large destroyer Nanchang as two of Liaoning's escorts at the time the video was made.

It was not unexpected to see the U.S. Navy shadowing the Chinese carrier group, a source familiar with maritime operations told Newsweek.

"But I don't think there's much precedent for USN shadowing them on deployments like this," the source added. "This kind of shadowing is more often seen in reverse, with PLAN vessels shadowing American ships in the region."

Liaoning was commissioned as China's first aircraft carrier in 2012 and later converted from a training to a combat role. The carrier group is currently conducting exercises in the waters south of Taiwan, Communist Party newspaper the People's Daily reported on Wednesday.

According to the U.S. Naval Institute, the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group returned to the South China Sea this week.

American Warship Shadows Chinese Aircraft Carrier
Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning in Hong Kong waters on July 7, 2017. ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP via Getty Images