BEIJING/WASHINGTON, D.C. – The US Navy stated that the American aircraft carriers Nimitz and Ronald Reagan had carried out exercises in the South China Sea “to support a free and open Indo-Pacific”. The navy did not elaborate on the exact location of the drills which also involved strategic B-52 bombers and F/A-18 fighter jets from the US Air Force, Sputnik reported.
Rear Admiral George M. Wikoff, commander of Carrier Strike Group 5, for his part, stressed that the exercises were not held in response to Beijing’s drills in the South China Sea which kicked off earlier this week.
“We aggressively seek out every opportunity to advance and strengthen our capabilities and proficiency at conducting all-domain warfighting operations,” Wikoff said, adding that “the US Navy remains mission-ready and globally deployed”.
“Dual carrier operations demonstrate our commitment to regional allies, our ability to rapidly mass combat power in the Indo-Pacific, and our readiness to confront all those who challenge international norms that support regional stability,” Wikoff noted.
The remarks came after Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Zhao Lijian rejected the Pentagon’s criticism of Beijing’s drills, arguing that certain “non-regional countries” conducting military exercises in the South China Sea affects the region’s stability.
This followed the Pentagon on Tuesday asserting that the Chinese exercises will “further destabilize” the situation in the South China Sea and “violate an international pact to avoid activities that would escalate disputes” in the region.
In late June, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made it plain that Washington supports the stance of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) that Beijing “cannot be allowed to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire”.
The majority of islands in the area are currently controlled by Beijing, however, the territory is also claimed by several other countries and territories, including Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, and the Philippines, all members of ASEAN. The US, which has no claims to the territories, angers Beijing by occasionally conducting so-called “Freedom of Navigation” missions in the South China Sea.