With A Single Photo, U.S. Tells China to Behave

The U.S. decided to flex its own muscle to remind China to behave.

Days after Chinese warships chased an unarmed Flipino boat ferrying journalists at the West Philippine Sea, the U.S. decided to post a photo of its own destroyer following a Chinese carrier.

On April 11, U.S. Navy commanders posted a photo of the Liaoning, a Chinese carrier, and its own U.S.S. Mustin, a guided missile destroyer, in an apparent chase in the East China Sea. The photo was taken on April 4, but the timing of its publication was significant. Analysts are calling the move “cognitive warfare” that is seen as a strategy to rattle China in response to its increasing aggression in the West Philippine Sea.

Basically, the message the U.S. wants to send China is simple: Behave or we will make you behave.

The Liaoning can be seen in the background as Commander Robert J. Briggs and Deputy Commander Richard D. Slye watch on the deck of the U.S.S. Mustin. The U.S.S. Mustin is a guided-missile destroyer that can sink large vessels, including Chinese carriers. 

There are certain elements in the photo that are pregnant with meaning.

In the photo, Commander Briggs watches the Liaoning with his feet up. It’s as if to say, “You are no threat to us, but if you cause trouble, we are right here.”

The two American commanders are also wearing face masks.

The overall impression in the obviously staged photo is that America considers COVID-19 as a more serious threat than China at the moment, but they’re keeping an eye on them anyway.


Although China has made significant progress in improving its naval capabilities, it is still decades behind the U.S. in terms of firepower, technology, and interoperability. Unlike the U.S., China has few allies in the Pacific with which it can conduct naval exercises to train for future conflicts.

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