The Haiyang Dizhi 8, a Chinese research vessel, was spotted last week conducting natural resources survey operations near an exploration vessel operated by Malaysia’s state oil company Petronas, months after it undertook a similar patrol off Vietnam.
The episode prompted the US to call on China to stop its “bullying behaviour” in the disputed waters, expressing its concern over Beijing’s actions towards offshore oil and gas developments in the region.
The amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) and the USS Bunker Hill (CG-52) a Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser have been deployed to the South China Sea, US Indo-Pacific Command spokeswoman Nicole Schwegman said on Tuesday.
USS America is one of the USN’s few aviation-centric amphibious assault ships, trading off well-deck space for more aircraft capability.
“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 US supports the efforts of our allies and partners to determine their own economic interests.”
The US State Department has said China was taking advantage of the region’s focus on the coronavirus pandemic to “coerce its neighbours”.
Rear Admiral Fred Kacher, commander of the USS America Expeditionary Strike Group, told Reuters that his forces had interacted with PLA 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.