For the first time in nearly three years, three American aircraft carriers are patrolling the Indo-Pacific waters, a massive show of naval force in a region roiled by spiking tensions between the US and China and a sign that the Navy has bounced back from the worst days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lolita C. Baldor wrote for the Associated Press (AP.)

The unusual simultaneous appearance of the three warships, accompanied by Navy cruisers, destroyers, fighter jets and other aircraft, comes as the US escalates criticism of Beijing’s response to the pandemic, its moves to impose greater control over Hong Kong and its campaign to militarize human-made islands in the South China Sea (SCS.)

“There have been some indications in Chinese writings that the US was hit hard by COVID-19, that military preparedness was low, so perhaps there is an effort by the US to signal China that it should not miscalculate,” said Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “The Chinese will definitely portray this as an example of US provocations, and as evidence that the US is a source of instability in the region.”

President Donald Trump, criticized for his own handling of the pandemic, has condemned China for what he sees as a failure to adequately warn the world about the COVID-19 threat. The administration has also moved to ban Chinese graduate students and researchers with links to the People’s Liberation Army or other security services from the US.