The US military announced yesterday that it has sent an aircraft carrier and a number of other ships through disputed waters in the South China Sea, an exercise that will necessarily raise tensions with Beijing, which has been engaging in an increasingly militaristic power-play in the area over the past few years.
The countries of The South China Sea have long claimed rights to disputed international waters, but as its economic strength has grown, an increasingly confident China has seen fit to flex its muscles by building military bases on artificial islands and militarizing one of the disputed Paracel Islands. It now claims almost all of the China Sea as its territory.
That has forced the US to send ships through the disputed waters to reaffirm their international status, most recently with a missile destroyer, the USS Curtis Wilbur, having sailed past the Paracels in January. But this latest move — a full aircraft carrier strike group led by the Nimitz-class USS John S Stennis — is the US's boldest yet.
The Navy's Seventh Fleet announced Friday that the Stennis had passed through the Luzon Strait between the Philippines and Taiwan on March 1, and had been operating in the South China Sea since then.
It was accompanied by the guided-missile destroyers USS Chung-Hoon and USS Stockdale, the guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay and the supply ship USNS Rainier.
In response Beijing has also sent a number of Chinese ships to monitor the US group. 'We have Chinese ships around us that we normally didn't see in my past experience,' Captain Greg Huffman, the Stennis's commanding officer, said in a Navy press release.