BEIJING (AP) — 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.
Seventh Fleet said the exercises with ships, ground troops, and aircraft took place on Saturday but did not elaborate on when or if they would end. China claims almost the entire South China Sea and strongly opposes military activities by other countries on the disputed waterway, which transports $5 trillion worth of goods annually.
The United States insists that freedom of navigation and overflight must be preserved. It sends ships past China’s heavily fortified outpost on the Spratly Islands, known in China as the Spratly Islands, several times a year, triggering an outcry from Beijing.
The United States has also strengthened its defense alliance with the Philippines, which is facing interference by the Chinese Coast Guard and the nominally civilian but government-backed fleet on islands and fisheries.
U.S. military exercises are planned. The exercises came as a Chinese spy balloon was shot down in U.S. airspace off the coast of South Carolina over the weekend, sparking a diplomatic dispute that exacerbated already tense relations between Washington and Beijing. In its press release, Seventh Fleet said the joint operations “create a strong presence in the region in support of peace and stability.”
“As an operational intervention force, we support a wide range of missions, including Marine landings, humanitarian disaster relief, and deterrence of potential adversaries through visible and existing combat capabilities,” the press release said.