BEIJING • China yesterday said it opposed action by other countries, under the pretext of freedom of navigation, that undermined its sovereignty, after a US aircraft carrier strike group began patrols in the contested South China Sea.
The US Navy last Saturday said the strike group, including the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier the USS Carl Vinson, had begun "routine operations" in the South China Sea, reported Reuters.
"China always respects the freedom of navigation and overflight all countries enjoy under international law," Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a daily news briefing. "But we are consistently opposed to relevant countries threatening and damaging the sovereignty and security of littoral countries under the flag of freedom of navigation and overflight."
It was China's first official comment on the latest US patrol.
"We hope relevant countries can do more to safeguard regional peace and stability," he said.
Mr Geng made similar remarks last week when responding to reports that the USS Carl Vinson was headed to the South China Sea.
Last Friday, China's South Sea Fleet, a key naval division of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) responsible for the defence of assets claimed by Beijing in the South China Sea, ended its exercises in the disputed waters.
The flotilla of warships consisting of two guided-missile destroyers had set sail from a military port in Sanya on Feb 10 for "scheduled" training in the South China Sea, the eastern Indian Ocean and the western Pacific Ocean.
China's naval drills are in line with international laws and conventions, said Rear Admiral Yu Manjiang, commanding officer of the task force and deputy commander of the South Sea Fleet.
Meanwhile, Xinhua news agency yesterday released a series of pictures showing the naval exercises in the Indian Ocean.
The drills, said the PLA Daily, are to simulate combat scenarios related to joint anti-aircraft, anti-terrorism and anti-piracy operations.
The US carrier strike group has not referred to its most recent operations in the South China Sea as "freedom of navigation" patrols, according to Reuters.
US ships last year conducted several such patrols to counter any efforts to limit freedom of navigation in the strategic waters.