The U.S. Defense Department said on Monday, Jan. 24, that two U.S. aircraft carrier strike groups had entered the South China Sea on Sunday, Jan. 23, for training. The announcement comes when China has just dispatched 52 large-scale military aircraft near Taiwan. A U.S. senior commander said the carrier’s actions were designed to reassure allies and demonstrate the U.S. resolve to fight the malicious influence of China.

U.S. Navy ships routinely navigate waters in the contested South China Sea to challenge China’s sovereignty claims over the area. Their carriers also regularly pass through the Taiwan Strait, which often attracts a harsh response from Beijing.

According to Reuters, the Pentagon said that two U.S. Navy carrier strike groups, led by the USS Carl Vinson and the USS Abraham Lincoln, began operations in the South China Sea on Sunday.

In a statement, the Defense Ministry said the carrier fleet would conduct anti-submarine warfare, air warfare, and maritime interception operations to enhance combat readiness. The Defense Ministry added that the training would be conducted in international waters per international law. 

The statement quoted Rear Admiral J.T. Anderson as saying: “Operations like these allow us to improve our combat credible capability, reassure our allies and partners, and demonstrate our resolve as a Navy to ensure regional stability and counter malign influence.”

Anderson was the strike group commander led by the USS Abraham Lincoln.

U.S. Navy said the two carrier groups have been conducting exercises with the Japanese navy in the Philippine Sea, encompassing waters east of Taiwan.

The U.S. aircraft carrier strike group’s entry into the South China Sea came not long after Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense reported that China had dispatched large-scale military aircraft to invade Taiwan’s Southwest Air Defense Identification Zone on Sunday. The Chinese military sent 39 military aircraft, the most significant force this year.

It is seen as a response to the U.S.-Japan joint military exercise. The day before, on Jan. 22, the U.S. and Japanese navies conducted a massive show of force in the Philippine Sea. They formed an attack fleet that included two U.S. Navy aircraft carriers, two U.S. amphibious assault ships, and a Japanese helicopter destroyer. In addition, two U.S. guided-missile cruisers and five destroyers also participated in the exercise.

Additionally, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry reported on Monday that China sent a further 13 military planes, including a Y-8 anti-submarine aircraft, to fly over the Bashi Strait near Taiwan.

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