South China Sea warning: US warships challenge Beijing with sudden show of military might

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Two US aircraft carriers conducted exercises in the disputed South China Sea earlier today. The US navy said their carriers USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan were carrying out operations and exercises in the South China Sea “to support a free and open Indo-Pacific”.

Rear Admiral George M. Wikoff, said: “The purpose is to show an unambiguous signal to our partners and allies that we are committed to regional security and stability.”

He stressed that the exercises were not a response to those being conducted by China, which the Pentagon criticised this week as “counter-productive to efforts at easing tensions and maintaining stability”.

The Navy did not say where the exercises were being conducted in the South China Sea, which extends for some 1,500 km (900 miles) and 90 percent of which is claimed by China despite the protests of its neighbours.

However, they stressed the naval exercises gave commanders the flexibility and capabilities “that only the US Navy can command”.

At the same time, China announced last week it had scheduled five days of drills starting July 1 near the Paracel Islands, which are claimed by both Vietnam and China.

The US, Vietnam and the Philippines have criticised the planned Chinese drills, warning they could create tension in the region and impact Beijing’s relationship with its neighbours.

Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin warned China that “it will be met with the severest response, diplomatic and whatever else is appropriate” should the exercises spill over to Philippine territory.

He added: “To be sure, China is just as entitled, as any other power, to invoke freedom of navigation in its military exercises. But that freedom, it bears reminding, requires a straight and uninterrupted voyage.”

A Pentagon statement, added: “The military exercises are the latest in a long string of PRC actions to assert unlawful maritime claims and disadvantage its Southeast Asian neighbours in the South China Sea.”

China dismissed the criticism of its drills yesterday and suggested the United States was to blame for increasing tensions.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the military exercises are within the scope of China’s sovereignty and said that certain “non-regional countries” conducting military exercises in the South China Sea are affecting the region’s stability.

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China and the United States have accused each other of stoking tension in the strategic waterway at a time of strained relations over everything from the new coronavirus to trade to Hong Kong.

US carriers have long carried out exercises in the Western Pacific, including in the South China Sea, according to the US Navy with the United States having three carriers in the region at one point recently.

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