WASHINGTON, Jan. 29 (Reuters) - The U.S. military said on Friday that Chinese military flights in the past week in the South China Sea “at no time” posed any threat to a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier strike group in the region but fit a pattern of destabilizing and aggressive behavior by Beijing.
“The Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group closely monitored all People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) and Air Force (PLAAF) activity, and at no time did they pose a threat to U.S. Navy ships, aircraft, or sailors,” the U.S. military’s Pacific Command said in a statement.
A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Chinese aircraft did not come within 250 nautical miles of the U.S. Navy vessels.
China claims almost all the energy-rich waters of the South China Sea, where it has established military outposts on artificial islands. However, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims to parts of the sea.
The waters have become a flashpoint in the Sino-U.S. relationship. The United States regularly accuses China of militarizing the South China Sea and trying to intimidate Asian neighbors who might want to exploit its extensive oil and gas reserves.
China, in turn, regularly bristles at U.S. military activity in the region, saying on Monday that such actions are not conducive to peace and stability in the region.
The U.S. Navy regularly conducts what it calls “freedom of navigation” operations by ships close to some of the islands China occupies, asserting freedom of access to international waterways.
The U.S. Pacific Command renewed its pledge to continue operations in the region.
“The United States will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, demonstrating resolve through our operational presence throughout the region,” Pacific Command said.