In message to China, US military carries out South China Sea drills

WASHINGTON D.C.: Amid tensions with Beijing over the shooting down of a suspected Chinese spy balloon, the US Navy and Marine Corps are holding joint exercises in the South China Sea.

On February 12, the Japan-based 7th Fleet said that the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier strike group and the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit have been conducting "integrated expeditionary strike force operations" in the South China Sea.

The exercises, which were planned in advance, involved ships, ground forces and aircraft, it added.

China, which claims most of the South China Sea as its territory, objects to military activity by other nations in the contested maritime region.

Despite having no official position on sovereignty in the South China Sea, Washington stresses that freedom of navigation and overflight must be maintained in the area.

The US has also strengthened its defense alliance with the Philippines, which has experienced harassment by the Chinese coast guard and Chinese government-backed civilian fleets, on its islands and fisheries.

Relations between Washington and Beijing have been recently strained by a diplomatic row caused by the shooting down of a Chinese balloon last weekend in US airspace off the coast of South Carolina.

Despite first issuing a rare expression of regret, Beijing has toughened its rhetoric, calling the downing of the balloon an overreaction and a violation of international norms.

Since the incident, the US has blacklisted six Chinese companies linked to Beijing’s aerospace programs.

The balloon was part of a large surveillance program that China has been conducting for several years, the Pentagon said.