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China holds new naval drills as US carrier transits South China Sea

China has staged another military exercise off the back of a five-day large-scale drill near the Paracel islands–just as the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan docked in Singapore after spending over a week in the South China Sea.

The U.S. carrier and its strike group were slated to visit Vietnam this month but the visit has been called off, said two Vietnamese sources with knowledge of the matter who wish to stay anonymous because they’re not authorised to speak to the media.

“No reason was given,” said one of the sources, adding that the Vietnamese staff involved in the preparation for the port call were asked to be on stand-by for a couple days before the final decision last week.

As “a matter of policy” the U.S. Pacific Fleet declined to comment on the purported port call.

The USS Ronald Reagan is now at Changi Naval Base and its crew met with visiting Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro before taking some R&R.

Del Toro’s office said the sailors have done “a fantastic job the past few months operating across the Indo-Pacific with Allies and partners reinforcing international norms and standards.”

“Be safe, make good decisions, and enjoy your liberty!” it tweeted.

The Ronald Reagan Strike Group began its first deployment in the South China Sea in 2022 on July 13 and was conducting exercises at the same time as another warship, the guided missile destroyer USS Benfold.

China’s back-to-back military exercises

While the U.S. ships were operating in the South China Sea, China announced a large military exercise on July 16 to July 20 in an area of 100,000 square kilometers (38,600 square miles) east of Hainan island overlapping the Paracel archipelago.

On July 20 the Hainan Maritime Safety Administration (MSA) issued another navigation warning about a second military exercise also in the South China Sea but smaller and at a closer proximity to Hainan island.

This drill started on the same Wednesday and finished Friday.

China often holds military exercises at short notice as a response to U.S. naval activities in disputed areas of the South China and East China Seas.

Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam hold territorial claims over parts of the sea including the Paracel and the Spratly islands but the Chinese claim is by far the most expansive.