A US aircraft carrier and its strike group have returned to the South China Sea after a stopover in Singapore, mobilizing in the disputed region as tensions rise with China over a possible visit to Taiwan by Nancy PelosiSpeaker of the United States House of Representatives.
Officers of the United States Navy’s Seventh Fleet confirmed the introduction of the USS Ronald Reagan on the vital trade routebut did not comment on questions about tensions over Pelosi’s trip.
“The USS Ronald Reagan and her strike group are underway, operating in the South China Sea following a successful port visit to SingaporeCommander Hayley Sims said in a statement sent to Reuters.
Sims added that the Reagan “is continuing normal and scheduled operations. as part of their routine patrol in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
The news about the mobilization of the Japan-based aircraft carrier comes as Beijing and Washington exchange diplomatic attacks on Pelosi’s possible visit, which is expected to take place next month after being postponed earlier in the year. Pelosi has not confirmed the possible trip.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Wednesday that he had spoken with Pelosi and given her a security assessment, but that any comment on a trip she might take to Taiwan would have to come from his office.
Tensions over democratically-ruled Taiwan are expected to be discussed when US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping hold their fifth phone call, which could take place as early as Thursday.
China has issued stern warnings to US officials about Pelosi’s possible visit to Taiwan, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Monday. Beijing regards Taiwan as part of its territory and has never shied away from using force to bring the island under its control.
The Reagan strike group had been operating in the South China Sea earlier in the month before heading for a five-day rest stop in Singapore at the weekend.
Singapore-based security expert Ian Storey said that foresaw Chinese ships following the strike groupbased on recent actions as well as recent stresses.
“Most of the time those interactions are safe and professional, but there is always a risk that they will get too close and cause a confrontationsaid Storey of the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.
US officials on Tuesday accused China of escalating “provocations” against rival claimants in the South China Sea, saying its “aggressive and irresponsible behavior” meant it was only a matter of time before a major incident or accident occurred.
(With information from Reuters / By Greg Torode)
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