An exchange of angry words is expected as a US aircraft carrier entered the South China Sea for “routine patrolling” over the weekend amid fresh tensions between Beijing and Washington under the month-old presidency of Donald Trump.
USS Carl Vinson, accompanied by a fleet of warships, is no stranger to the disputed waters and has been deployed in the region several times before. But this time could be different, with tension and unease running high between the two countries despite a phone call between President Xi Jinping and Trump.
Trump has already angered China by talking to Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, the head of a country that China claims as a “breakaway region”.
China claims almost the entire SCS, and reacting to the visit of the aircraft carrier, its ministry of foreign affairs warned the US it should not challenge China’s sovereignty in the region.
“China has indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and their adjacent waters. China respects and upholds the freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea which countries enjoy under international law, but firmly opposes any country's attempt to undermine China's sovereignty and security in the name of the freedom of navigation and overflight,” ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said on the “routine patrol” by the US aircraft carrier.
“We also urge the US to refrain from challenging China's sovereignty and security and to respect regional countries' efforts to maintain peace and stability in the SCS,” Geng said.
Beijing lays claim to several islands and reefs in the SCS and is locked in dispute with Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan and Vietnam over their ownership.
On its part, the US has spoken out against China building new islands in the SCS and has blamed Beijing for militarising the region.
Official Chinese media warned the US about the visit as early as January when the Carl Vinson-led warship fleet began its journey, alleging it’s always the US which stirs up trouble in the region.
“Facts again show that it is the United States along with its regional allies that have never stopped stirring up trouble in peaceful waters and militarising the South China Sea. Over the past decades, certain countries in the region, under the US double standard, have continuously been deploying heavy weapons on illegally occupied islands and reefs that actually belong to China,” official news agency Xinhua said in a comment piece.
“The US, self-proclaimed world police, itself has developed a habit of putting on a military show of force on China's doorstep. Even though the region is thousands of miles away from its soil, US warplanes and warships have been patrolling dangerously close to Chinese territory,” it said.