U.S. carrier group enters South China Sea amid Taiwan tensions

TAIPEI – A US aircraft carrier group led by the USS Theodore Roosevelt has entered the South China Sea to promote “freedom of the seas,” the US military said on Sunday at a time when tensions between China and Taiwan were rising of concern in Washington.

The US Indo-Pacific command said in a statement that the strike group entered the South China Sea on Saturday. On the same day, Taiwan reported a major incursion by Chinese bombers and fighter planes into its air defense zone near the Pratas Islands.

Eight Chinese bomber planes and four fighter planes entered the zone and the Taiwanese air force deployed missiles to “monitor” the incursion, the island’s Department of Defense said, and urged the US State Department to urge China to stop pressure on Taiwan.

The US military said the porter strike group is in the South China Sea, which much of China is alleged to be conducting routine operations “to ensure the freedom of the seas and build partnerships that promote maritime safety.”

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“Having sailed these waters during my 30-year career, it is great to be back in the South China Sea, conducting routine operations, promoting ocean freedom and reassuring allies and partners,” said counteradministrator Doug Verissimo, commander of the Strike group, it was quoted.

“With two-thirds of world trade traveling through this very important region, it is important that we maintain our presence and continue to promote the rules-based order that has enabled us all to thrive,” Verissimo said in the statement.

The announcement comes just days after Joe Biden was sworn in as US President.

Biden’s foreign ministerial candidate, Antony Blinken, told his Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday that there was “no doubt” that China was the greatest challenge facing any country’s United States.

China has repeatedly complained that US Navy ships are approaching China-occupied islands in the South China Sea, where Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and Taiwan have competing claims.

The Theodore Roosevelt is accompanied by the Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill and the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers USS Russell and USS John Finn.

In a bold move Friday, China authorized its Coast Guard to fire on foreign ships and destroy structures on features it claims, potentially increasing the possibility of clashes with regional maritime rivals.

Coast Guard law empowers the armed forces “to take all necessary action, including the use of weapons, when the national sovereignty, sovereignty and jurisdiction of foreign organizations or individuals at sea are unlawfully violated”.

The law also empowers the Coast Guard to demolish the structures of other countries built on China-claimed reefs and islands and to confiscate or order foreign ships that illegally enter China’s territorial waters.

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