China Accuses U.S. of Flexing Military Muscle in South China Sea

China accused the U.S. of having "ulterior motives" in the South China Sea after Washington sent two aircraft carriers into the contested waters to conduct drills.

The U.S. Navy said over the weekend that two of its carriers, the USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan, were conducting exercises in the South China Sea.

Alongside a video, the U.S. Navy tweeted that the "Nimitz Carrier Strike Force celebrated #IndependenceDay 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."

On Monday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told a daily press briefing that the American military operations were conducted "totally out of ulterior motives," The Associated Press reported, and undermined stability.

"Against such a backdrop, the U.S. deliberately dispatched massive forces to conduct large-scale military exercises in the relevant waters of the South China Sea to flex its military muscle," Zhao reportedly said.

Comprised of both Nimitz and Ronald Reagan Strike Groups, the Nimitz Carrier Strike Force celebrated #IndependenceDay 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.

— U.S. Navy (@USNavy) July 4, 2020

Beijing claims much of the South China Sea as its own territory and in recent years has built military bases in the area. But its territorial claims are disputed by other states in the region, and the strategically-important sea is a flashpoint for tensions.

The U.S. has pushed back against China in support of its Asian allies and to secure the area's value as a trading route. Around a third of all global shipping passes through the South China Sea, according to the global affairs think tank CSIS, which in 2016 amounted to $3.37 trillion.

"The purpose is to show an unambiguous signal to our partners and allies that we are committed to regional security and stability," Rear Adm. George M. Wikoff, commander of the strike group led by the USS Ronald Reagan, told the Wall Street Journal of the recent drills.

China recently conducted its own military drills in the South China Sea, which saw a live-fire exercise involving multiple models of aircraft and firepower mobilized off of the country's southeast coast.

"In the exercise, we conducted the training through day and night, set multiple kinds of targets on land, at sea and in the air, and stressed on the tactical coordination in continuous strikes by multiple projectiles," Zhou Zhirong, a flight commander of the army aviation brigade involved in the training, said at the time.

"The gunship pilots have greatly improved their combat effectiveness in such an actual combat environment."

The Chinese drills prompted criticism from the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. After the Philippines criticized the Chinese drills, Pompeo said: "America agrees with our Southeast Asian friends: The PRC's military exercise in disputed waters of the South China Sea is highly provocative. We oppose Beijing's unlawful claims. Period."

South China Sea US drills
This photograph taken on October 16, 2019 shows a US Navy F/A-18 Super Hornets multirole fighter landing on the flight deck of USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) aircraft carrier as it sails in South China Sea on its way to Singapore. CATHERINE LAI/AFP via Getty Images