'Trump's lie over the Carl Vinson': South Korean anger over US carrier confusion
Riyadh: US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis looked to address confusion over a US aircraft carrier group on Wednesday, saying that its schedule had been disclosed earlier to be transparent.
“The bottom line is, in our effort to always be open about what we are doing we said that we were going to change the Vinson’s upcoming schedule,” Mattis told reporters, referring to the Carl Vinson strike group.
Spicer stumbles over missing armada
White House Spokesman Sean Spicer attempted to clarify why the Carl Vinson aircraft carrier strike group was heading in the opposite direction to Trump’s claims it was headed towards North Korea as a warning.
“We don’t generally give out ships schedules in advance but I didn’t want to play a game either and say we were not changing a schedule when in fact we had,” Mattis said.
There had been confusion after US President Donald Trump boasted early last week that he had sent an “armada” as a warning to North Korea even as the aircraft carrier strike group he spoke of was still far from the Korean peninsula.
The US military’s Pacific Command explained on Tuesday that the Carl Vinson strike group first had to complete a shorter-than-initially planned period of training with Australia.
But it was now “proceeding to the Western Pacific as ordered”, it said.
On Wednesday, after it was revealed that the carrier strike group was actually thousands of kilometres away and had been heading in the opposite direction, toward the Indian Ocean, South Koreans felt bewildered, cheated and manipulated by the United States, their country’s most important ally.
“Trump’s lie over the Carl Vinson,” read a headline on the website of the newspaper JoongAng Ilbo on Wednesday. “Xi Jinping and Putin must have had a good jeer over this one.”
“Like North Korea, which is often accused of displaying fake missiles during military parades, is the United States, too, now employing ‘bluffing’ as its North Korea policy?” the article asked.
The episode raised questions about whether major allies of the United States, like South Korea and Japan, had been informed of the carrier’s whereabouts, and whether the misinformation undercut US strategy to contain North Korea’s nuclear ambitions by using empty threats.
Compounding their anger over the Carl Vinson episode, many South Koreans also were riled at Trump for his assertion in a Wall Street Journal interview last week that the Korean Peninsula “used to be a part of China.” Although Korea was often invaded by China and forced to pay tributes to its giant neighbour, many Koreans say the notion that they were once Chinese subjects is egregiously insulting.
“The 50 million South Koreans, as well as many common-sensical people around the world, cannot help but feel embarrassed and shocked,” said Youn Kwan-suk, spokesman of the main opposition Democratic Party, which is leading in voter surveys ahead of the May 9 presidential election.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer appeared to struggle to answer questions about the carrier’s movements in the White House daily press briefing.
“The president said that we have an armada going towards the peninsula. That’s a fact. It happened. It is happening, rather,” said
He referred further queries about the deployment timetable to the Pentagon.
US aircraft carriers regularly visit areas near the Korean Peninsula as part of annual military exercises with South Korea and Japan. But when the US Pacific Command said on April 9 that the Carl Vinson had been ordered to leave Singapore and return to the Western Pacific, the decision was considered highly unusual, as it had been in exercises off the Korean Peninsula just last month.
Reuters, New York Times