US deploys aircraft carrier in South China Sea, defies Beijing

20 February 2017

The United States on Saturday deployed aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson to patrol the South China Sea amidst growing tension between the United States and an assertive China, which claims sovereignty over the entire South China Sea despite the United Nations court rejecting its claim.

The US Navy described it as part of a ''routine operations'' even as Beijing warned the US not to challenge its sovereignty in the resource-rich sea.

China claims most of the South China Sea as its own, despite overlapping territorial and jurisdictional claims from the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei.

The 97,000-tonne Vinson, which carries a flight group of more than 60 aircraft, including F/A-18 jet fighters, is accompanied by guided-missile destroyer USS Wayne E. Meyer, the Navy said in a statement.

The US Navy is planning a fresh freedom of navigation operation around China's man-made islands, as a more assertive America under President Ronald Trump takes the US challenge closer to the disputed area.

The San Diego-based USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group, which began patrolling the South China Sea, would be sailing within 12-mile territorial waters of the island features China claims as its own, reports said.

The operation comes amid growing tensions between the United States and China over territory and trade under the Trump administration, which looks set to take a more confrontational stance toward China than the previous Obama predecessor.

The new US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also said during his confirmation hearing that China should be blocked from accessing the artificial islands it's built, setting the stage for a potential showdown.

China has been creating artificial islands on all seven islets and reefs in the Spartley Islands in the South China Sea ever since 2013 and it is equipping many of these with military-grade airfields and weapon systems despite objections by states like the Phillipines and Vietnam who share the South China Sea with other littoral states.

Philippines had moved the International Court of Arbitration in The Hague and an international tribunal had last year issued a sweeping condemnation of China's claims and conduct in the disputed waters.

China said it did not recognise the ruling, which it described as "null and void."

Without taking a position on rival claims to the South China Sea islands, the United States has conducted periodic freedom of navigation operations near the Chinese holdings, which have triggered heated warnings from Beijing.

In July last year, a senior Chinese admiral said such operations could end ''in disaster.''

China has now denounced the US move to deploy its naval fleet in the South China Sea.

''China has indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and their adjacent waters,'' he said.

''China respects and upholds the freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea which countries enjoy under international law, but firmly opposes any country's attempt to undermine China's sovereignty and security in the name of the freedom of navigation and overflight,'' China's foreign ministry spokesman Gang Shuang stated on Wednesday.

China urged the US to ''refrain from challenging China's sovereignty and security'' in the sea, he added.

But, with some 30 per cent of global maritime trade worth $5.3 trillion passing through the South China Sea each year, the whole world has a stake in the disputed seas.

Besides, the waters are also key fishing resources and are rich in oil and natural gas reserves.

The new Trump administration, however, continues to redefine US policies and priorities towards the South China Sea. Secretary of state Rex Tillerson has taken a hard line on Beijing's activities in the area, telling the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, ''We're going to have to send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops and, second, your access to those islands is also not going to be allowed.''

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