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US Navy again has two carrier strike groups in the South China Sea

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  • The US Navy again has two carrier strike groups conducting dual carrier operations in the South China Sea.
  • For the second time in two weeks, the Nimitz and Ronald Reagan carrier strike groups are training together in the strategic waterway.
  • The exercises, which the Navy says are unrelated to current events, come during a week in which the US and China have traded barbs over the South China Sea.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

For the second time in two weeks, the US Navy has two carrier strike groups conducting dual carrier operations in the South China Sea, a waterway over which the US and China have been trading jabs lately.

Over Fourth of July weekend, two Navy carrier strike groups led by the USS Nimitz and the USS Ronald Reagan trained together in the South China Sea. The last time the Navy had two carriers operating together in the South China Sea was nearly six years ago.

The Nimitz and Ronald Reagan carrier strike groups have linked up again to continue their high-end dual carrier operations, the Navy said Friday.

“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,” Nimitz Carrier Strike Group Commander Rear Adm. Jim Kirk said in a statement.

The Navy noted that the carrier operations are unrelated to current events, but the carrier activities do notably come at a time of heightened tensions with China.

Aircraft from Carrier Air Wing 5 and Carrier Air Wing 17 fly in formation over the Nimitz Carrier Strike Force (CSF). The USS Nimitz (CVN 68) and USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) Carrier Strike Groups are conducting dual carrier operations in the Indo-Pacific as the Nimitz CSF.

Aircraft from Carrier Air Wing 5 and Carrier Air Wing 17 over the USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan carrier strike groups in the Indo-Pacific region.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Keenan Daniels


China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused the US earlier this month of flexing its muscles to “undermine the peace and stability in the South China Sea.” This week, the Foreign Ministry criticized the US for sending “large fleets of advanced military vessels and aircraft to the South China Sea to flex muscles and stir up troubles.”

On Tuesday, USS Ralph Johnson, one of the destroyers sailing with the Nimitz carrier strike group, conducted a freedom-of-navigation operation in the contested Spratly Islands, challenging certain navigation restrictions by China and other claimant states.

Prior to the Navy freedom-of-navigation operation, at least the sixth this year, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement Monday announcing the US is aligning its South China Sea policy with a 2016 international arbitration tribunal ruling and officially rejecting many of China’s claims to the contested waterway.

“Beijing’s claims to offshore resources across most of the South China Sea are completely unlawful, as is its campaign of bullying to control them,” he said. “The PRC’s predatory world view has no place in the 21st century.”

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the US statement on the South China Sea “irresponsible.”

“It violates and distorts international law, deliberately stokes territorial and maritime disputes, and undermines regional peace and stability,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Zhao Lijian said Tuesday.

The South China Sea, long a hot spot, has again become a flash point in recent months as the US has stepped up its military activities in response to “opportunistic activity by the PRC” to take advantage of the COVID-19 crisis and “coerce its neighbors and press its unlawful maritime claims in the South China Sea,” the Pentagon said previously.

The global coronavirus crisis that began in China but has since spread across the US due to domestic mishandling has triggered a increase in US-China tensions, causing problems across the bilateral relationship.

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