A US aircraft carrier entered the South China Sea to conduct drills this week, the US Navy said on Thursday. The USS Ronald Reagan and its strike group returned to the disputed waters for the third time this year.
The Reagan is joined by a guided-missile cruiser and two guided-missile destroyers. A statement released by the US Navy’s Pacific Fleet said the strike group is “conducting maritime security operations, which include flight operations with fixed and rotary-wing aircraft, maritime strike exercises, and coordinated tactical training between surface and air units.”
The South China Sea has seen a significant uptick in US military activity this year. Washington has inserted itself into a maritime dispute between China and several Southeast Asian countries, who all have overlapping claims to the waters.
On Wednesday, the US steamed a warship through the Taiwan strait, another sensitive waterway in the region. Last week, the US sailed a guided-missile destroyer near the Paracel Islands, a disputed archipelago in the South China Sea that Beijing claims.
A Beijing-based think tank that monitors flights in the region said the US flew 60 warplanes near China’s coast in September. Forty-one of those flights were over the South China Sea.
Back in July, the Trump administration formally rejected most of Beijing’s claims to the South China Sea. In August, the administration sanctioned Chinese companies involved in construction projects on Chinese-claimed islands.