Bangkok, July 17 (efe-epa).- The United States has deployed two aircraft carriers to the South China Sea, the US navy said on Friday, amid rising tensions with China over the strategically important maritime region disputed between various regional countries.
“Nimitz and Reagan Carrier Strike Groups are operating in the South China Sea, wherever international law allows, to reinforce our commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific, a rules-based international order, and to our allies and partners in the region,” Rear Admiral Jim Kirk, commander of the Nimitz group, said in a statement.
Washington had earlier sent these strike groups in the area on July 4 to carry out military exercises in the contested waterway, resulting in a war of words with Beijing.
China claims sovereignty over parts of the South China Sea leading to disputes with the Philippines and Vietnam as well as Malaysia, Taiwan, and Brunei at a smaller scale.
However, the US navy statement said the presence of the carriers in the region was “not in response to any specific political or world events, but is part of regular integration to exercise and develop tactical interoperability.”
The long-standing trade war, suspicions over the Covid-19, and the controversial Hong Kong security law have soured the already delicate ties between the US and China, with the South China Sea emerging as the new theater of hostilities between the two sides in recent weeks.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement on Monday that most of China’s offshore claims in the South China Sea were “completely unlawful” and recognized the jurisdiction of several Southeast Asian nations, especially the Philippines and Vietnam, over the disputed areas.
“Beijing uses intimidation to undermine the sovereign rights of Southeast Asian coastal states in the South China Sea, bully them out of offshore resources, assert unilateral dominion, and replace international law with ‘might makes right’,” Pompeo said.
In response, the Chinese Embassy in Washington DC said the accusations were “unjustified,” and “inciting confrontation in the region.”
At the same time when the US deployed its aircraft carriers around two weeks ago, China was carrying out its drills between July 1-5, demonstrating its new military assets in the waters of the South China Sea, Eastern Sea, and the Yellow Sea.
One of the operations took place around the Paracel Islands, a disputed archipelago claimed by China and Vietnam, which led to Hanoi protesting against the exercise by calling it a violation of “Vietnam’s sovereignty” and an action “affecting peace.”
China cites “historical rights” to claim sovereignty over some 90 percent of the South China Sea.
However, other regional countries have strongly reiterated territorial and maritime claims in the strategically important body of water, a thoroughfare for around 30 percent of global trade and home to roughly 12 percent of the world’s fishing grounds. EFE-EPA