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US Navy to sail again in disputed South China Sea

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A handout picture from US Navy dated February 21, 2007, shows the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis. (AFP)

The US Navy seeks to sail yet again around disputed territories in the South China Sea despite earlier condemnations from Beijing of America’s “provocations” in the region.

The new operation will be the third so far slated for early April, a source familiar with the plan told Reuters on Friday.

The time of the naval passage and the US ships that would travel within a 12-nautical mile limit around a disputed island in the South China Sea have not been made clear.

The navy has carried out what it calls "freedom of navigation" drills in the area in recent months, sailing near disputed islands.

US Navy officials say they plan to conduct more and increasingly complex exercises there in the future.

The USS Stennis carrier strike group is currently operating in the South China Sea.

The carrier, John C. Stennis, two destroyers, two cruisers and the 7th Fleet flagship sailed into the disputed waters last month.

Washington has already sparked anger in Beijing by such naval patrols which China deems as incursions and acts of provocation.

The US accuses China of militarizing the South China Sea after reports that the Chinese deployed an advanced surface-to-air missile battery to the Paracel Islands in the region last month.

China has dismissed such claims, saying the Stennis's patrol provides evidence of further US attempts for flare-up of military tensions.

The South China Sea has become a source of tension between China, the US, and some regional countries who are seeking control of trade routes and mineral deposits.

The disputed islands are claimed by countries such as Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei, which all have overlapping claims with China over the territories in the South China Sea, including the Paracels, Spratly Islands, Pratas Islands and Scarborough Shoal.

Washington and China’s rivals have been accusing Beijing of attempting to take advantage of the situation and gradually assert control in the South China Sea.

Beijing, however, rejects the allegations and accuses Washington of meddling in the regional issues and deliberately stirring up tensions in the South China Sea.

The South China Sea serves as a crossing for more than USD 5 trillion worth of annual maritime trade.

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