US sends carriers to South China Sea during Chinese drills

The USS Ronald Reagan, above, has maintained a regular presence in the disputed South China Sea. (AFP file photo)
Short Url
Updated 04 July 2020

US sends carriers to South China Sea during Chinese drills

  • China and the United States have accused each other of stoking tension in the strategic waterway
  • US carriers have long carried out exercises in the Western Pacific, including in the South China Sea

Two US aircraft carriers were conducting exercises in the disputed South China Sea on Saturday, the US navy said, as China also carried out military drills that have been criticized by the Pentagon and neighboring states.
China and the United States have accused each other of stoking tension in the strategic waterway at a time of strained relations over everything from the new coronavirus to trade to Hong Kong.
The USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan were carrying out operations and exercises in the South China Sea “to support a free and open Indo-Pacific,” the navy said in a statement.
It did not say exactly where the exercises were being conducted in the South China Sea, which extends for some 1,500 kilometers and 90 percent of which is claimed by China despite the protests of its neighbors.
“The purpose is to show an unambiguous signal to our partners and allies that we are committed to regional security and stability,” Rear Admiral George M. Wikoff was quoted as saying by the Wall Street Journal, which first reported the exercises.
Wikoff, commander of the strike group led by the Ronald Reagan, said the exercises were not a response to those being conducted by China, which the Pentagon criticized this week as “counter-productive to efforts at easing tensions and maintaining stability.”
China dismissed the US criticism of its drills on Friday and suggested the United States was to blame for increasing tensions.
US carriers have long carried out exercises in the Western Pacific, including in the South China Sea, according to the US navy. At one point recently, the United States had three carriers in the region.
China announced last week it had scheduled five days of drills starting July 1 near the Paracel Islands, which are claimed by both Vietnam and China.
Vietnam and the Philippines have also criticized the planned Chinese drills, warning they could create tension in the region and impact Beijing’s relationship with its neighbors.
The United States accuses China of trying to intimidate Asian neighbors who might want to exploit its extensive oil and gas reserves. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also lay claim to parts of the South China Sea, through which about $3 trillion of trade passes each year.
The US statement said the naval exercises gave commanders the flexibility and capabilities “that only the US Navy can command.”


Greece: 243 positive COVID-19 cases among migrants in Lesbos

Updated 4 min 8 sec ago

Greece: 243 positive COVID-19 cases among migrants in Lesbos

  • More than 12,000 asylum-seekers were left homeless nearly two weeks ago after fires on two successive nights destroyed the notoriously overcrowded Moria camp
  • The migrants spent several nights sleeping rough by the side of a road in makeshift shelters
ATHENS, Greece: Greece’s government spokesman says more than 200 people have tested positive for the coronavirus among thousands of asylum-seekers admitted to a new camp on the island of Lesbos after the old one burned down.
Speaking during a regular briefing Monday, Stelios Petsas said 7,064 people who entered the new camp at Kara Tepe had been tested, and 243 of them were found positive.
The average age of those confirmed positive was 24, and most were asymptomatic, Petsas said. A further 160 people, mainly police and administrative staff who had come into contact with the migrants, were tested and all were negative for the virus.
Petsas said the positive cases from Lesbos would be added to Greece’s official coronavirus figures Monday. Health authorities release daily statistics of the virus’s spread every evening.
More than 12,000 asylum-seekers were left homeless nearly two weeks ago after fires on two successive nights destroyed the notoriously overcrowded Moria camp. Greek authorities have said the fires were deliberately set by a small group of Afghans angered by lockdown and isolation orders imposed after 35 people in the camp tested positive for COVID-19.
The migrants spent several nights sleeping rough by the side of a road in makeshift shelters, and held at least two protests, attended by thousands, to demand to be allowed to leave the island.
Authorities have constructed a new facility consisting of family tents erected on an old shooting range in a coastal area of the island. They launched a campaign over the weekend to persuade those who had been sleeping rough to go to the new camp, and thousands have complied.
But others are still sleeping rough in fields and in an olive grove outside the remnants of Moria. Authorities were expected to attempt to have them move into the new camp over the coming days.
Nationwide, Greece has been experiencing a resurgence of the virus, with the number of new daily cases often topping 300, and both deaths and the number of those in intensive care units rising.
Greece has had just over 15,000 confirmed positive cases and 338 deaths in this country of nearly 11 million people.