A top U.S. admiral stated Friday while standing aboard an American aircraft carrier on patrol in the disputed South China Sea that the U.S. military is not going anywhere.
“We will be here,” Rear Adm. James Kilby said as F-18 fighter jets took off from the deck of the USS Carl Vinson, a Nimitz-class supercarrier which was recently deployed to the South China Sea. “We have operated here in the past, we’re going to operate here in the future, we’re going to continue to reassure our allies,” the admiral explained. “We continue to demonstrate that the international waters are waters where everyone can sail.”
China claims the vast majority of the hotly-contested South China Sea, which is also claimed by several other countries, including Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. Taiwan is also a claimant. An international arbitration tribunal discredited China’s extensive claims to the region, but China continues to assert its dominance through increased militarization in the form of outpost construction and arms deployments.
Over 30 aircraft took to the skies above the Carl Vinson Friday. Kilby explained that the moves were not a show of force, but a clear sign of America’s commitment to its allies and partners in the Asia-Pacific region. “We wanted to reassure our friends and allies and our belief in the freedom of navigation and security operations that we always conducted,” the admiral said.
The aircraft participating in Friday’s drills engaged in simulated combat and bombing runs.
China objects to others countries, the U.S. in particular, stirring regional tensions on the grounds of supporting freedom of navigation, which Beijing asserts it has always upheld.
“Though peace reigns over the land, the stupid people create trouble for themselves,” Wang Guoqing, the new spokesman for the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, argued Friday. “As the world’s largest trader and the country with the most coastline along the South China Sea, we care about the safety and freedom of navigation more than any other country.”
He added that China’s defense deployments have contributed to navigational safety, contradicting previous foreign ministry statements were Beijing’s attempts to “ready a slingshot” in response to America’s military presence in the South China Sea.
The USS Carl Vinson, accompanied by a guided-missile destroyer, entered the South China Sea on Feb. 18. The American carrier battle group will be stationed in Asia for five months.
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