Military

US Holds Drills in South China Sea Amid Tensions With China

February 13, 2023Associated Press
An MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter lands aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz in the South China Sea, Sunday, Feb. 12, 2023, as Nimitz in U.S. 7th Fleet was conducting operations. The 7th Fleet based in Japan said Sunday that the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier strike group and the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit have been conducting “integrated expeditionary strike force operations” in the South China Sea. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Justin McTaggart via A.

An MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter lands aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz in the South China Sea, Sunday, Feb. 12, 2023, as Nimitz in U.S. 7th Fleet was conducting operations. The 7th Fleet based in Japan said Sunday that the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier strike group and the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit have been conducting “integrated expeditionary strike force operations” in the South China Sea. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Justin McTaggart via A.

BEIJING — The United States Navy and Marine Corps are holding joint exercises in the South China Sea at a time of heightened tensions with Beijing over the shooting down of a suspected Chinese spy balloon.

The 7th Fleet based in Japan said Sunday that the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier strike group and the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit have been conducting "integrated expeditionary strike force operations" in the South China Sea.

It said exercises involving ships, ground forces and aircraft took place Saturday but gave no details on when the began or whether they had ended.

China claims virtually the entire South China Sea and strongly objects to military activity by other nations in the contested waterway through which $5 trillion in goods are shipped every year.

An E/A-18G Growler aircraft launches from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz in the South China Sea, Sunday, Feb. 12, 2023, as Nimitz in U.S. 7th Fleet was conducting operations. The 7th Fleet based in Japan said Sunday that the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier strike group and the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit have been conducting “integrated expeditionary strike force operations” in the South China Sea. (Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Joseph Calabrese/U.S. Navy via AP)

An E/A-18G Growler aircraft launches from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz in the South China Sea, Sunday, Feb. 12, 2023, as Nimitz in U.S. 7th Fleet was conducting operations. The 7th Fleet based in Japan said Sunday that the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier strike group and the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit have been conducting “integrated expeditionary strike force operations” in the South China Sea. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Joseph Calabrese via AP.

The U.S. takes no official position on sovereignty in the South China Sea, but maintains that freedom of navigation and overflight must be preserved. Several times a year, it sends ships sailing past fortified Chinese outposts in the Spratly Islands, prompting protests from Beijing.

The U.S. has also been strengthening its defense alliance with the Philippines, which has faced encroachment on islands and fisheries by the Chinese coast guard and nominally civilian but government-backed fleets.

The U.S. military exercises were planned in advance. They come as already tense relations between Washington and Beijing have been exacerbated by a diplomatic row sparked by the balloon, which was shot down last weekend in U.S. airspace off the coast of South Carolina.

The U.S. said the unmanned balloon was equipped to detect and collect intelligence signals, but Beijing insists it was a weather research airship that had accidently blown off course.

This image provided by the U.S. Navy shows sailors assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group 2 recovering a high-altitude surveillance balloon off the coast of Myrtle Beach, S.C., Feb. 5, 2023. (U.S. Navy via AP)

This image provided by the U.S. Navy shows sailors assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group 2 recovering a high-altitude surveillance balloon off the coast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Feb. 5, 2023. US Navy via AP.

The balloon prompted Secretary of State Antony Blinken to abruptly cancel a high-stakes trip to Beijing aimed at easing tensions.

After first issuing a highly rare expression of regret over the balloon, China has toughened its rhetoric, calling the U.S. shootdown an overreaction and a violation of international norms. China's defense minister refused to take a phone call from U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to discuss the matter.

The United States has since blacklisted six Chinese entities it said were linked to Beijing's aerospace programs as part of its response to the incident. The House of Representatives also voted unanimously to condemn China for a "brazen violation" of U.S. sovereignty and efforts to "deceive the international community through false claims about its intelligence collection campaigns."

CORRECTS THE PHOTOGRAPHER TO CAYLEN MCCUTCHEON, NOT JUSTIN MCTAGGART - Aircraft from the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz and the USS Makin Island fly in formation past Nimitz in the South China Sea, Sunday, Feb. 12, 2023, as Nimitz and Makin Island with embarked 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit were conducting operations. The 7th Fleet based in Japan said Sunday that the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier strike group and the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit have been conducting “integrated expeditionary strike force operations” in the South China Sea. (Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Caylen McCutcheon/U.S. Navy via AP)

Aircraft from the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz and the USS Makin Island fly in formation past Nimitz in the South China Sea, Sunday, Feb. 12, 2023, as Nimitz and Makin Island with embarked 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit were conducting operations. The 7th Fleet based in Japan said Sunday that the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier strike group and the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit have been conducting “integrated expeditionary strike force operations” in the South China Sea. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Caylen McCutcheon via AP.

The balloon was part of a large surveillance program that China has been conducting for several years, the Pentagon said. The U.S. says Chinese balloons have flown over dozens of countries across five continents in recent years, and it learned more about the balloon program after closely monitoring the one shot down near South Carolina.

In its news release, the 7th Fleet said the joint operation had "established a powerful presence in the region, which supports peace and stability."

"As a ready response force, we underpin a broad spectrum of missions including landing Marines ashore, humanitarian disaster relief, and deterring potential adversaries through visible and present combat power," the release said.

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Associated Press
Associated Press

The Associated Press is an independent global news organization dedicated to factual reporting, founded in 1846.

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