In signal to Beijing, US sends jet-carrying warship to South China Sea


The US sent a fighter-jet-carrying warship to join drills near the disputed Scarborough Shoal for the first time, sending a pointed message to China as tensions simmer over territorial claims in the region.

The USS Wasp — an amphibious assault ship outfitted last year with F-35B jets — joined the annual Exercise Balikatan with the Philippines this month. A ship matching the USS Wasp’s description was spotted in waters “near the Scarborough Shoal,” a feature occupied by China since a tense standoff in seven years ago, the Philippines’ ABS-CBN News reported Tuesday.

The USS Wasp didn’t pass within 25 nautical miles of the shoal, according to a US defense official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The figure suggests that the ship wasn’t conducting a so-called freedom of navigation operation, a practice criticised by China that the US uses to assert international sailing rights within 12 nautical miles of disputed features.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said at a briefing in Beijing on Wednesday that he hopes “non-regional forces don’t stir up troubles in the South China Sea.”

The moves come as officials in Manila escalate protests over the presence of more than 200 Chinese ships near the Philippine-occupied South China Sea feature of Thitu. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has urged China to “lay off” the feature, saying he would order a military action.

The US has been seeking to firm up its treaty alliance with the strategically located Southeast Asian nation ever since Duterte was elected in 2016 and announced his “separation” from Washington in favor of Beijing. In March, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo assured local officials during a visit to Manila that their treaty would apply to Philippine vessels or planes attacked in disputed waters.