New Delhi (NVI): Sending out a message to China, two US aircraft carriers have sailed through the South China Sea, over which Beijing lays its absolute claim and attempts to usurp the rights of its neighbours like Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei.
Nuclear-powered USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan sailed along with their strike groups into the sea in a major show of strength to China, according to the ‘Sun’ newspaper of the UK.
Pictures showed the steel armada sailing through the region that has been the source of years of tensions between the US and China, it said.
The aircraft carriers launched F/A 18E Super Hornet fighter jets, and were joined by guided missile destroyers and cruisers in the exercise.
Meanwhile, Britain has announced that its new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth could also be sent to the Far East.
The American move comes after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asserted that China’s claim over South China Sea was not “lawful” or “coherent”.
Addressing a press conference on Monday, he said the United States “rejects any PRC (People’s Republic of China) claim to waters beyond a 12-nautical mile territorial sea derived from islands it claims in the Spratly Islands.”
Pompeo said the US also “rejects any PRC maritime claim in the waters surrounding Vanguard Bank (off Vietnam), Luconia Shoals (off Malaysia), waters in Brunei’s EEZ, and Natuna Besar (off Indonesia).”
He warned that any action by China to harass other states’ fishing or hydrocarbon development in these waters, or to carry out such activities unilaterally, is unlawful.
Contending that China engages in a campaign of “bullying” against its neighbours, he said, “Beijing uses intimidation to undermine the sovereign rights of Southeast Asian coastal states in the South China Sea.”
The Secretary of State went on to add: “America stands with our Southeast Asian allies and partners in protecting their sovereign rights to offshore resources, consistent with their rights and obligations under international law.”
South China Sea is considered to be potentially energy rich and a key lane for international maritime.
Chinese response to the American move came through State-run newspaper ‘The Global Times’, which said the Communist country has missiles which can “kill” aircraft carriers.
“China has a wide selection of anti-aircraft carrier weapons like DF-21D and DF-26 ‘aircraft carrier killer’ #missiles. South China Sea is fully within grasp of the #PLA; any US #aircraftcarrier movement in the region is at the pleasure of PLA,” it tweeted.
The US Navy’s chief of information replied: “And yet, there they are.Two @USNavy aircraft carriers operating in the international waters of the South China Sea. #USSNimitz & #USSRonaldReagan are not intimidated.”
Meanwhile, according to British media reports, ‘The HMS Queen Elizabeth’, the latest aircraft carrier of the UK, will be deployed in the Indo-Pacific region to counter an increasingly aggressive China.
It will be accompanied by a fleet of warships, including two Type 45 destroyers and two frigates. It will also be deployed with two squadrons of F-35B Lightning II jets, likely to be from the RAF and the US Marine Corps.
Vice-Admiral Jerry Kyd, fleet commander, was quoted by The Times newspaper as saying that the Royal Navy was “going to be coming back to the Indo-Pacific”.
Explaining how Britain could get involved in the region, he said: “Our ambition is to be absolutely persistent and forward-based there, maybe with a carrier strike group, or maybe not. We’ll see.”
Vice-Admiral Kyd added that British stealth fighter jets could be sustained “through our US allies and through the hub in Japan”, and be transported by the HMS Queen Elizabeth.