BANGKOK • A United States aircraft carrier strike group has begun patrols in the South China Sea amid growing tension with China over control of the disputed waterway and concerns that it could become a flashpoint under the new US administration.
Last Wednesday, China's Foreign Ministry warned Washington against challenging its sovereignty in the South China Sea. It said ships and aircraft were allowed to operate in the area according to international law, but spokesman Geng Shuang added that Beijing "firmly opposes any country's attempt to undermine China's sovereignty and security in the name of the freedom of navigation and overflight".
The US 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 aircraft carrier'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.
SHOW OF STRENGTH
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.
REAR-ADMIRAL JAMES KILBY, commander of the strike group, which includes USS Carl Vinson, on how training in the Pacific has improved the group's effectiveness and readiness.
SOVEREIGNTY AT STAKE
(Beijing) firmly opposes any country's attempt to undermine China's sovereignty and security in the name of the freedom of navigation and overflight.
MR GENG SHUANG, spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry, in an earlier warning to Washington against challenging its sovereignty in the South China Sea.
US to expand patrols in waterway: Report
The United States is set to step up its presence in the South China Sea to counter Chinese claims and activity in the region, the Diplomat website reported, citing news reports in regional and American publications.
Some analysts believe the US military presence in the region during the Obama administration was insufficient to deter China's large-scale construction activities in the disputed Spratly Islands.
The Navy Times reported recently that plans for substantially expanded freedom of navigation operations have been sent to President Donald Trump for approval.
However, analysts note that the US still needs to spell out what it wants to achieve via expanding patrols in the South China Sea and how it can do so without provoking China to build up its position further.
The Vinson has been deployed in the South China Sea 16 times in its 35-year history, the US Navy said.
Friction between the US and China over trade and territory under President Donald Trump has increased concerns that the area could become a flashpoint.
China wrapped up its own naval exercises in the South China Sea last Friday. War games involving its own aircraft carrier have unnerved neighbours with which it has had long-running territorial disputes.
Washington says it does not take sides in the territorial disputes but has several times sent warships and planes to assert freedom of navigation in the area.
China lays claim to almost all of the resource-rich South China Sea, through which about US$5 trillion (S$7 trillion) worth of trade passes each year. It has also rapidly developed reefs into artificial islands capable of hosting military planes.
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 US has criticised Beijing's construction of man-made islands and build-up of military facilities in the area, and expressed concern that they could be used to restrict free movement.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE