A United States aircraft carrier strike group has begun patrols in the South China Sea amid growing tensions with China.
The US Navy said the force, which includes the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and a fleet of supporting warships, has begun “routine operations” in the disputed waterway.
The operations come amid concerns the South China Sea could become a flash point under President Donald Trump’s administration.
Steve Bannon, Mr Trump’s closest adviser and chief strategist, has said he thinks there will be a US-China war over the South China Sea within the next five to 10 years.
Similarly, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently appeared to call for a blockade of the South China Sea islands.
China’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday warned Washington against challenging its sovereignty in the South China Sea.
The US strike group’s commander, Rear Admiral James Kilby, said weeks of training in the Pacific had improved the group’s effectiveness and readiness.
“We are looking forward to demonstrating those capabilities while building upon existing strong relationships with our allies, partners and friends in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region,” he was quoted as saying by the Navy News Service.
China wrapped up its own naval exercises in the South China Sea on Friday. War games involving its own aircraft carrier have unnerved neighbours with which it has long-running territorial disputes.
Beijing lays claim to almost all of the resource-rich South China Sea, through which about $5 trillion worth of trade passes each year.
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also claim parts of the waters that command strategic sea lanes and have rich fishing grounds, along with oil and gas deposits.
The US has criticised Beijing’s construction of artificial islands, along with airfields and military facilities, in the sea.
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