US Navy says strike group led by USS Ronald Reagan conducts flight and maritime exercises in contested South China Sea.

A US Navy aircraft carrier conducted exercises in the contested South China Sea on Friday, the US Navy said in a statement.

A strike group, led by the USS Ronald Reagan, conducted flight operations and high-end maritime stability operations and exercises, the statement said.

“Integration with our joint partners is essential to ensuring joint force responsiveness and lethality, and maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific,” US Navy Commander Joshua Fagan, Task Force 70 air operations officer on board USS Ronald Reagan, was quoted as saying.

The drill comes amid heightened tensions between the United States and China. Washington has criticised Beijing over its coronavirus response and accuses it of taking advantage of the pandemic to push territorial claims in the South China Sea and elsewhere.

The US has long opposed China’s expansive territorial claims in the South China Sea and has sent warships regularly through the strategic waterway.

China has objected to such exercises and said the US rejection of its claims in the South China Sea has raised tension and undermined stability in the region.

China claims nine-tenths of the resource-rich South China Sea, through which some $3 trillion of trade passes a year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have competing claims.