The U.S. Navy conducted massive drills in the South China Sea on Saturday, with two aircraft carriers involved in the exercises. According to The Wall Street Journal, hundreds of jets, helicopters, and surveillance planes took off from the USS Nimitz and the USS Ronald Reagan in Washington’s largest military drills in the region in recent years.
“The Nimitz Carrier Strike Force celebrated Independence Day with unmatched sea power while deployed to the South China Sea conducting dual carrier operations and exercises in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific,” the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet said in a statement.
The exercise is a show of force aimed at Beijing, who held its own drills over the weekend near the Paracel Islands, a disputed archipelago that China, Vietnam, and Taiwan all lay claim to. China’s build-up of military and research facilities on the Paracel Islands and the Spratly islands, another contested archipelago, has drawn the ire of Washington.
Since 2015, the U.S. has run what it calls Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOP) in the South China Sea, increasing tensions in the region. The FONOPs usually involve sailing a warship near the contested archipelagos and always draw sharp condemnation from Beijing.
“The fundamental cause of instability in the South China Sea is the large-scale military activities and flexing of muscles by some non-regional country that lies tens of thousands of miles away,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said at a press conference on Friday.
The Bashi Channel, a waterway just south of Taiwan, has turned into another flashpoint for the US and China. Friday marked the 13th day in a row that US military aircraft flew over the Bashi Channel. The South China Morning Post reported that the U.S. sent six large reconnaissance aircraft and two refueling tankers on Friday’s mission. The planes were reportedly searching for Chinese submarines in the area.