South China Sea
The United States Navy said Saturday that two of its aircraft carriers — the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan and U.S.S. Nimitz — were conducting exercises in the South China Sea, most of which is claimed by China despite objections from neighboring Southeast Asian countries. The exercises by the two U.S. carriers, as well as four other warships, reportedly include flights testing the striking ability of carrier-based aircraft.
The Navy said the purpose of the operations is to unambiguously "signal to our partners and allies" that the U.S. is "committed to regional security and stability" rather than serve as a response to exercises conducted by China nearby. It's no secret, though, that the strategic waterway has long been a point of tension between the two powers whose relationship is deteriorating over a trade war, the coronavirus pandemic, and Beijing's recent crackdown on Hong Kong's autonomy.
The Wall Street Journal, which initially reported the story, described the South China Sea as central to China's plan to project strength beyond its traditional boundaries. Over the last few years, Beijing has been stocking artificial islands in the sea with missiles and jamming equipment that hinder operations by the U.S. and its allies, making it one of the most consequential hot spots in the world. Read more at Reuters and The Wall Street Journal.