US maintains carrier presence in the South China Sea

The USS Carl Vinson on Thursday and Friday (March 2-3) led a carrier strike group in waters some 400 nautical miles east of China’s Hainan Island and northeast of the Paracels, the island chain occupied by Beijing since it seized control from Vietnam in the 1970s.

Some 30 fighter jets, helicopters and other aircraft took to the sky on Friday while crew raced to service them, check their instruments and fit weapons.

At any given time, between eight and 25 aircraft are in the air, day and night, with 15-20 on standby.

Rear Admiral James Kilby, the strike group commander, said the 2-week long patrol did not violate any territorial claims or borders.

“I would say we have operated consistently in international waters in the South China Sea for the last two weeks,” he said.

USS Carl Vinson has been on patrol since February 19 in the South China Sea.

China claims most of the South China Sea through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. Neighbours Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.

China’s growing military presence in the waters has fuelled concern in the West, with the United States criticizing its militarization of maritime outposts and holding regular air and naval patrols to ensure freedom of navigation.