US carrier group USS Carl Vinson patrols in South China Sea: US navy

Sailors man the rails as the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier departs on deployment from Naval Station North Island in Coronado, California, US on Jan 5, 2017.
Sailors man the rails as the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier departs on deployment from Naval Station North Island in Coronado, California, US on Jan 5, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK (Reuters) - A United States aircraft carrier strike group has begun patrols in the South China Sea, the US navy said on Saturday (Feb 18), amid renewed tension over the disputed waterway.

China's Foreign Ministry on Wednesday warned Washington against challenging its sovereignty, responding to reports the United States was planning fresh naval patrols in the South China Sea.

The navy said the force, including Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, began routine operations in the South China Sea on Saturday. The announcement was posted on the Vinson's Facebook page.

The strike group’s commander, Rear Admiral James Kilby, said that weeks of training in the Pacific had improved the group’s effectiveness and readiness.

“We are looking forward to demonstrating those capabilities while building upon existing strong relationships with our allies, partners and friends in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region,” he was quoted as saying by the Navy News Service.  

Friction between the United States and China over trade and territory under U.S. President Donald Trump have increased concerns that the South China Sea could become a flashpoint.  

China wrapped up its own naval exercises in the South China Sea on Friday.

War games involving its own aircraft carrier have unnerved neighbours with which it has long-running territorial disputes.  

China lays claim to almost all of the resource-rich South China Sea, through which about US$5 trillion worth of trade passes each year.  Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also claim parts of the waters that command strategic sea lanes and have rich fishing grounds, along with oil and gas deposits.  

The United States has criticised Beijing’s construction of man-made islands and build-up of military facilities in the sea, and expressed concern they could be used to restrict free movement.