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US hopes China takes notice as two aircraft carriers sail PH 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)
The US aircraft carriers John C. Stennis (L) and Ronald Reagan and other warships conduct drills in the Philippine Sea on June 18, 2016. (US Navy photo)

The US Navy has deployed two aircraft carriers in the western Pacific Ocean as tensions mount before an international court’s ruling on China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea.

The Nimitz-class supercarriers, USS Ronald Reagan and USS John C. Stennis, and their accompanying warships conducted air defense and sea surveillance operations in the Philippine Sea on Saturday, the US Pacific Command said in a statement.

The training drill also involved 12,000 sailors, 140 aircraft and six smaller warships.

“The ships and aircraft assigned to both strike groups began coordinated operations in international waters demonstrating the United States’ unique capability to operate multiple carrier strike groups in close proximity,” the statement said.

“While at sea, the strike groups conducted air defense drills, sea surveillance, replenishments at sea, defensive air combat training, long range strikes, coordinated maneuvers and other exercises,” it added.

The apparent show of force comes as the UN arbitral tribunal in The Hague is expected to soon issue its verdict on a territorial dispute between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea.

The decision is largely expected to favor the Philippines, which filed the case in 2013, and could have wide-ranging implications for China’s claims in one of the world’s most contested strategic waterways.

The message of the US exercise was unmistakable, and the timing was deliberate, an American official familiar with the planning of the operation told the New York Times on condition of anonymity.

China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, including waters close to the Philippine coasts, based on what has come to be known as the “nine-dash line” defined by ancient maps.

The US Pacific Command stressed that the US, as a “Pacific nation and a Pacific leader… has a national interest in maintaining security and prosperity, the peaceful resolution of disputes, unimpeded lawful commerce, and adherence to freedom of navigation and overflight throughout the shared domains of the Indo-Asia Pacific.”

Beijing has repeatedly criticized US military presence in the region and suspects the military drills are part of efforts to contain China.

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