April 19, 2017 / 3:01 PM / 4 months ago

Allies silent, jibes in China over U.S. carrier mix-up

BEIJING (Reuters) - America's allies in Asia were silent on Wednesday over confusion about a U.S. aircraft carrier group that was supposed to be headed toward North Korea in a show of force, but was actually completing training exercises in Australia.

But many Chinese took to social media to joke about it.

"American imperialism is a paper tiger," said one user on Weibo, China's version of Twitter.

"The aircraft carrier was sleep-walking," said another.

The U.S. 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.

U.S. President Donald Trump said last week that he had ordered the strike group to head for Korean waters amid talk that unpredictable North Korea was likely to conduct a nuclear or long-range ballistic missile test.

"We cannot comment on details of U.S. operation of its assets," a military official said in Seoul, the capital of South Korea.

North Korea remains technically at war with the South and the United States because the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice and no peace treaty was signed.

Japan, the other main U.S. ally in the region, did not comment on the mix-up while China's foreign ministry declined to comment at a regular briefing.

Singapore-based security expert Ian Storey said countries in the region would have found the confusion over the strike group's location "unsettling and perplexing".

"This disconnect between the White House and Pacific Command may be an operational issue but it is distinctly odd," said Storey, who is based at the ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute.

"The fact that the Carl Vinson strike group was not in the vicinity of the Korean peninsula undermines the Trump administration’s tough approach towards Pyongyang."

North Korea did not refer to the mix-up but said the United States and its allies "should not mess with us".

"A nuclear powered aircraft carrier that the United States and its puppet group are loudly advertising is nothing more than a pile of scrap metal in the face of our revolutionary forces' mighty power," said the Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the North's ruling Workers' Party.

Reporting by Michael Martina, Greg Torode in Hong Kong and Jack Kim in Seoul; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan

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