In a move aimed to support a 'free and open Indo-Pacific' in the wake of China flexing its muscle in the region, two aircraft carriers of the United States are conducting exercises in the disputed waters of the South China Sea. The USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Groups are conducting dual carrier operations in the Philippine Sea and South China Sea.
Even though it was planned much earlier, the military drill by the US is being considered as a significant move in view of Beijing conducting military exercises near the disputed Paracel Islands.
Two US Combat Carriers and Four Warships
The US claimed that operating two carrier strike groups in the Philippine Sea and the South China Sea provides advanced training opportunities for its forces and provides combatant commanders with significant operational flexibility should those forces be called upon in response to regional situations, reported CNN.
Lt. Joe Jeiley, a spokesman for the Seventh Fleet, said that the presence of two carriers is not in response to any political or world events. "This advanced capability is one of many ways the U.S. Navy promotes security, stability, and prosperity throughout the Indo-Pacific," he was quoted by the outlet.
According to the reports, the two combat carriers and four warships will include round-the-clock flights testing the striking ability of carrier-based aircraft.
"I can confirm that the USS Nimitz (CVN 68) and USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) are conducting dual-carrier operations and exercises in the South China Sea to support a free and open Indo-Pacific. High-end integrated exercises build unmatched flexibility, endurance, manoeuvrability and firepower in an all-domain war-fighting environment," said Lt Cmdr Sean Brophy, Public Affairs Officer for the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group.
China's Military Drill in South China Sea Termed Provocative
The disputed Paracel Islands, located in the South China Sea, are a bone of contention between China, Vietnam and Taiwan, with each laying its claim on the Islands.
For a long time now, US has been vocal about Beijing's attempt at militarizing the islands through the deployment of military hardware and construction of military facilities there. Challenging China's claim to the Paracel Islands, US recently undertook an exercise called 'Freedom of Navigation Operations', in May this year.
Calling China's military exercise as provocative, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted on Friday: America agrees with our Southeast Asian friends: The PRC's (People's Republic of China) military exercise in disputed waters of the South China Sea is highly provocative. We oppose Beijing's unlawful claims. Period."
A day before Pompeo's tweet, the Pentagon had released a statement saying that China's "military exercises are the latest in a long string of PRC actions to assert unlawful maritime claims and disadvantage its Southeast Asian neighbors in the South China Sea."
In response to concerns raised by US, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said that its military exercise in the South China Sea was reasonable and within the country's sovereignty. "Some countries outside the region often travel thousands of miles to the South China Sea to engage in large-scale military activities, and show off their power, which is the fundamental reason that affects the stability in the South China Sea," said Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson of the ministry, was quoted by CGTN.