WASHINGTON — The U.S. Navy sent a flagship through the South China Sea to a port in the Philippines this week, as the Pentagon continues to ramp up its presence in an area China insists is its sovereign territory.
The Pentagon confirmed on Friday the freedom of navigation sailing of the U.S. 7th Fleet’s command and control ship the USS Blue Ridge. The Blue Ridge is an amphibious command ship.
The Navy sent two destroyers near the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea in February and two ships near the Parcel Islands, also in the South China Sea, in January. That was the first time freedom of navigation sailings have been held in the South China Sea in consecutive months.
The Blue Ridge sailing marks the third consecutive month, another first.
In addition to the Blue Ridge sailing, two U.S. B-52 bombers flew over the South China Sea on a training mission Wednesday, Pentagon officials confirmed Friday. That is the second such flight in nine days.
“U.S. aircraft regularly operate in the South China Sea in support of allies, partners, and a free and open Indo-Pacific,” the U.S. Pacific Command said in a statement released to the media. The bombers left Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, flew to the South China Sea, and then returned, the statement said.
China considers the sorties and sailings provocative as it claims the islands and waterways as sovereign territory. Beijing has militarized several of the islands and man-made outcroppings, despite its promise not to do just that.
The port call by the Blue Ridge in Manila was the ship’s first port visit to the Philippines in three years. It comes as China seeks to take control of part of the port at Subic Bay, the Philippines, with an eye to building a naval facility to further tighten their grip on the South China Sea.