The U.S. Navy has dispatched a small armada to the South China Sea.
The carrier John C. Stennis, two destroyers, two cruisers and the 7th Fleet flagship have sailed into the disputed waters in the last 24 hours, according to military officials. The carrier strike group is the latest show of force in the tense region, with the U.S. asserting that China is militarizing the region to guard its excessive territorial claims.
The Stennis deployed from Washington state on Jan. 15.
The stand-off has been heating up on both sides. After news in February that the Chinese had deployed an advanced surface-to-air missile battery to the Paracel Islands, U.S. Pacific Command head Adm. Harry Harris told lawmakers that China was militarizing the South China Sea.
“In my opinion China is clearly militarizing the South China Sea,” Harris testified on Feb. 24. “You’d have to believe in a flat Earth to believe otherwise.”
A 7th Fleet spokesman downplayed the heavy U.S. presence in the region.
“Our ships and aircraft operate routinely throughout the Western Pacific — including the South China Sea — and have for decades,” Cmdr. Clay Doss said in a statement. “In 2015 alone, Pacific Fleet ships sailed about 700 combined days in the South China Sea.”
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SOURCE: USA Today; Navy Times, David Larter