Two US aircraft carriers are conducting operations in the South China Sea for the first time in six years pushing back China’s sweeping claim to much of the contested region.
USS Ronald Reagan and USS Nimitz Carrier Strike Force arrived in the region unwrapping its own set of naval exercises near a disputed island chain.
The Nimitz and Ronald Reagan strike groups conducted several exercises and operations to strengthen war fighting readiness and proficiency in an all-domain environment.
Integrated operations included air defense exercises, tactical maneuvering drills, simulated long-range maritime strike scenarios, and coordinated air and surface exercises to maintain combat readiness and maritime superiority.
It is the first time two US carriers have operated together in the South China Sea since 2014 and only the second time since 2001.
“These efforts support enduring US commitments to stand up for the right of all nations to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows.” a US Navy statement said.
Meanwhile, China’s People Liberation Army Navy was wrapping up five days of drills around the Paracel Islands, known in China as the Xisha, a chain also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan.
Last Friday, China’s Foreign Ministry described its South China Sea drills as being “within sovereignty and reasonable”.
Beijing claims almost all of the 1.3 million square mile South China Sea as its sovereign territory and over the past several years has built up military fortifications on several islands.
That buildup, which included the launch of anti-ship missiles from an island during exercises last year, comes after Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged to then-US President Barack Obama in 2015 that the islands would not be militarized.
Beijing, meanwhile, has labeled the US’ presence in the region as destabilizing.
“Some countries outside the region often travel thousands of miles to the South China Sea to engage in large-scale military activities, and show off their power, which is the fundamental reason that affects the stability in the South China Sea,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said Friday.