Two US warships are operating in the South China Sea, the Navy said on Tuesday, with three regional security sources saying they were near an area of a standoff between China and Malaysia.
The Haiyang Dizhi 8, a Chinese government research ship, was spotted last week conducting a survey close to an exploration vessel operated by Malaysia’s state oil company Petronas, months after it undertook a similar patrol off Vietnam.
The incident prompted the United States to call on China to stop its “bullying behaviour” in the disputed waters, citing concern over Beijing’s provocative actions towards offshore oil and gas developments there.
The U.S. State Department has said China was taking advantage of the region’s focus on the coronavirus pandemic to “coerce its neighbours”.
The USS America amphibious assault ship and the USS Bunker Hill, a guided missile cruiser, have been deployed and were operating in the South China Sea, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command spokeswoman Nicole Schwegman said on Tuesday.
“Through our continued operational presence in the South China Sea, we are working … to promote freedom of navigation and overflight, and the international principles that underpin security and prosperity for the Indo-Pacific,” Schwegman said in an emailed statement to Reuters.
“The U.S. supports the efforts of our allies and partners to determine their own economic interests.”
Rear Admiral Fred Kacher, commander of the USS America Expeditionary Strike Group, told Reuters that his forces had interacted with Chinese naval forces in the South China Sea this week.
“All our interactions continue to be safe and professional with them,” Kacher said in a telephone interview from the USS America.