The US Navy confirmed in a statement on Tuesday that it has sent the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group (TRCSG) to the South China Sea to conduct routine operations amid growing tensions over China’s expanded claims in the region.
The TRCSG resumed patrolling the highly disputed maritime territory on April 4.
This is the second time that the strike group has conducted operations in the South China Sea this year, parts of which are claimed by China, Vietnam, Malaysia, and the Philippines. In February, the same group performed dual-carrier drills in the area.
This time, the TRCSG will carry out maritime strike exercises, anti-submarine operations, and rotary-wing flight operations while in the contested territory.
#USNavy aircraft attached to Carrier Air Wing #CVW11 conduct flight operations from #USSTheodoreRoosevelt after the #CVN71 carrier strike group's return to the South China Sea this week as part of a @US7thFleet deployment. #FreeAndOpenIndoPacific pic.twitter.com/eU5pUkdlXJ
— U.S. Pacific Fleet (@USPacificFleet) April 6, 2021
“It is great to be back in the South China Sea to reassure our allies and partners that we remain committed to freedom of the seas,” Carrier Strike Group Nine Commander Doug Verissimo said.
“Over the course of the strike group’s deployment, we have demonstrated our commitment to the rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific region by operating with our friends from Australia, India, Japan, Malaysia, and South Korea. We look forward to continuing to sail together with all those that embrace our collective vision of security and stability in one of the most important regions in the world,” he added.
The TRCSG, which includes the destroyer USS Russell and guided missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill, entered the South China Sea following reports about 200 Chinese ships being spotted at Whitsun Reef.
The Philippine military has deployed an air force jet and a number of navy ships to patrol the disputed reef, where a large number of Chinese civilian vessels have been anchored.
Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana called on the Chinese government to “stop this incursion and immediately recall these boats violating our maritime rights and encroaching into our sovereign territory.”
China maintains it has historical rights to around 90 percent of the South China Sea and has built military bases and airstrips in an attempt to buttress these claims. However, such claims were ruled out by the Hague Tribunal in 2016 as lacking any sort of legal or historical foundation.