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Great Satan US conducts drills in South China Sea under Beijing’s watchful eye

1 October 2017 18:35

 

A US aircraft carrier has carried out routine military drills in the South China Sea under the watchful eye of China as tensions mount between Washington and North Korea.

F-18 Super Hornet jet fighters flew off the decks of the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier on Saturday while two Chinese frigates constantly maintained a line-of-sight vigil.

The two frigates of the People’s Liberation Army’s Navy conduct frequent close quarter surveillance, according to officers on the Japanese-based Reagan.

They said that sometimes Chinese vessels move around to check out the carrier en route to other destinations, while other times they stay for days within the screen of US ships and planes which are tasked with protecting the Reagan.

US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan departs the Yokosuka naval base in Yokosuka, Kanagawa prefecture on September 8, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

At times, the crew of Washington’s only carrier based outside America will alert the Chinese escorts to ensure safe passage, should the carrier sharply alter course, the officer said.

“We’ve had no issues. They’ve been very professional,” said Rear Admiral Marc Dalton, commander of the Reagan’s strike group, as well as the larger battle forces of the US Seventh Fleet. “We see them on a regular basis.”

Meanwhile, a US official said Washington was expected to send the aircraft carrier to waters near the Korean Peninsula this month for a combined exercise with South Korea’s Navy.

“We are in consultations (with the US) on a plan for the aircraft strike group led by the nuclear-powered USS Ronald Reagan, to operate in the East Sea around Oct. 15,” the official said Saturday on condition of anonymity.

“The military group will carry out a high level joint exercise in the sea with the naval forces here.”

This handout photo taken on January 28, 2017 shows an overview satellite image of Tree Island in the disputed Paracel island chain in the South China Sea. (Photo by AFP)

The situation in the South China Sea has been precarious since Japan and South Korea, two major allies of the US in the region, protested what they described as China’s undercutting of naval sovereignty of neighboring nations in the region.

The US, which routinely carries out military drills in the sea along with Japan and South Korea, has called on China to retract its military presence from waters which are not part of its territory.

Washington claims that China has blocked free movement of vessels in areas which should be used for international navigation without any restriction under the international protocol.

China, however, has objected to US intervention in the area, accusing Washington of seeking to destabilize the region and undermine the unity among the Southeast Asian nations.

All this while tensions have increased over North Korea, which has conducted several nuclear tests and missile test-launches in recent months.

Pyongyang argues it needs to do such tests to ensure its security in the face of the US, which has increased its military presence in the region.

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