(Reuters) – Two U.S. carrier groups conducted joint exercises in the South China Sea on Tuesday, days after a U.S. warship sailed near Chinese-controlled islands in the disputed waters, as China denounced the United States for damaging peace and stability.
The Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group and the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group “conducted a multitude of exercises aimed at increasing interoperability between assets as well as command and control capabilities”, the U.S. Navy said, marking the first dual carrier operations in the busy waterway since July 2020.
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the frequent moves by U.S. warships and aircraft into the South China Sea in a “show of force” was not conducive to regional peace and stability.
“China will continue to take necessary measures to firmly safeguard national sovereignty and security and work with countries in the region to firmly safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea,” he said.
The exercise comes days after China condemned the sailing of the destroyer, the USS John S. McCain, near the Chinese-controlled Paracel Islands in what the United States calls a freedom of navigation operation – the first such mission by the U.S. navy since President Joe Biden took office.
Last month, the U.S. military said Chinese military flights over the South China Sea fit a pattern of destabilising and aggressive behaviour but posed no threat to a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier strike group in the region.
The United States has contested China’s extensive territorial claims in the region, accusing it of militarising the South China Sea and trying to intimidate neighbours such as Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, who have claims that overlap with China’s in the resource-rich area.
“We are committed to ensuring the lawful use of the sea that all nations enjoy under international law,” Rear Admiral Jim Kirk, commander of the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group, said in a statement.
China has been infuriated by repeated U.S. sailings near the islands it occupies and controls in the South China Sea. China says it has irrefutable sovereignty and has accused the United States of deliberately stoking tension.
China has also been angered by U.S. warships sailing through the Taiwan Strait, including one last week, also the first such operation under the Biden administration.
Speaking in Taipei, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said U.S. ships and aircraft carrying out freedom of navigation operations was reassuring.
“This demonstrates the clear U.S. attitude towards challenges to the security status quo in the Indo-Pacific region,” she said.
(Reporting by Se Young Lee in Washington; Additional reporting by Gabriel Crossley in Beijing and Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Editing by Himani Sarkar, Robert Birsel)