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A group of US carriers sailed through the South China Sea in an exercise aimed at promoting “freedom of navigation,” the first routine operation that the United States carried out in the region under the new president, Joe Biden.
Led by the “USS Theodore Roosevelt,” the carrier group entered the area on Saturday, the US Indo-Pacific Command said, the same day that Taiwan reported that several Chinese aircraft and bombers had entered its area of air defense.
“It is fantastic to be back in the South China Sea, conducting routine operations, promoting freedom of the seas and reassuring allies and partners,” said Rear Admiral Doug Verissimo, Commander of the Nine Strike Carrier Group.
Beijing claims almost the entire South China Sea, despite claims by Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam that parts of it belong to them.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman called the routine US exercises a “show of force” that is not conducive to “peace and stability in the region.”
The South China Sea is a strategic sea lane where valuable oil and gas deposits are believed to be present.
Beijing has military planes stationed on artificial islands built on the reefs in the area, a decision that sparked the ire of several states claiming parts of the sea.
The US operation comes days after Washington called its commitment to Taiwan “rock solid,” the Biden administration’s first comments on the island.
Taiwan broke away from China at the end of a civil war in 1949 and lives under constant threat of an invasion from the mainland government, whose leaders have vowed to take it one day.
Beijing refuses to have official contact with Taiwan and tries to keep the island diplomatically isolated.
The United States remains Taiwan’s most important unofficial ally, and is bound by an act of Congress to sell it weapons to defend itself.
Former US President Donald Trump grew closer to the island while maintaining a trade pulse with China. Biden is expected to keep the hard line with Beijing.
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