(Reuters) – Two US aircraft carriers carried out exercises in the disputed South China Sea on Saturday, the US Navy said, as China also carried out military exercises that have been criticized by the Pentagon and neighboring states.
FILE PHOTO: The US Navy aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan is seen during his visit to Hong Kong, China on November 21, 2018. REUTERS / Yuyang Wang
China and the United States have accused each other of fueling tension on the strategic waterway at a time of strained relations over everything from the new coronavirus to trade with Hong Kong.
USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan were conducting operations and exercises in the South China Sea “to support a free and open Indo-Pacific,” the navy said in a statement.
He did not say exactly where the exercises were taking place in the South China Sea, which stretches for about 1,500 km (900 miles) and 90% of which is claimed by China despite protests from its neighbors.
“The purpose is to show an unequivocal signal to our partners and allies that we are committed to regional security and stability,” said Rear Admiral George M. Wikoff, quoted by the Wall Street Journal, which first reported on the exercises.
Wikoff, commander of the strike group led by Ronald Reagan, said the exercises were not a response to those carried out by China, which the Pentagon criticized this week as “counterproductive to efforts to ease tensions and maintain stability.”
China on Friday rejected the United States’ criticism of its drills and suggested that the United States is to blame for the increased tensions.
U.S. carriers have long exercised in the western Pacific, including in the South China Sea, according to the U.S. Navy. At a recent time, the United States had three carriers in the region.
China announced last week that it had scheduled five days of drills beginning July 1 near the Paracel Islands, which are claimed by both Vietnam and China.
Vietnam and the Philippines have also criticized the planned Chinese drills, warning that they could create tension in the region and impact Beijing’s relationship with its neighbors.
The United States accuses China of trying to intimidate Asian neighbors who want to exploit its extensive oil and gas reserves. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam also claim parts of the South China Sea, through which about $ 3 trillion of trade passes each year.
The United States statement said the naval exercises gave commanders the flexibility and capabilities “that only the United States Navy can command.”
Report by Matthew Tostevin; Additional reports from Idrees Ali in Washington; Editing by William Mallard