The aircraft-carrier strike group led by USS Carl Vinson conducting naval and air operations in the South China Sea this week is the first challenge to Beijing’s expansive maritime claims to the waters since Donald Trump took office.
The US Navy announced that the operations began on February 18, describing them as “routine,” while Chinese state media quickly called the warships’ freedom-of-navigation activities a threat to China.
A Pentagon official said the naval maneuvers were not freedom-of-navigation but exercises of the kind the US Navy has been doing for a hundred years.
The exercises were ordered by US Defense Secretary James Mattis, who is said to be concerned that a lack of regular US naval and air maneuvers in the sea has undermined regional stability.
The carrier operations put Beijing on notice that the new president likely will continue US policy in seeking to bolster regional allies that have become increasingly alarmed at China’s assertiveness in the region.