China and the United States have sailed aircraft carriers into the disputed waters in the East and South China Seas, as Beijing continues to assert its maritime claims in the region and Washington has ramped up military exercises to counter it.
This comes as Beijing has moored over 200 vessels in the Whitsun Reef in the South China Sea claimed by both China and the Philippines.The Philippine foreign ministry on Monday said China's claims that the boats were sheltering from bad weather were "blatant falsehoods" and "clearly [a] false narrative of China's expansive and illegitimate claims in the West Philippine Sea".
On Sunday, a US aircraft carrier strike group led by the USS Theodore Roosevelt entered the South China Sea from the Strait of Malacca, according to the Beijing-based South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative, citing satellite data.
It said the USS Mustin guided-missile destroyer was also operating in the East China Sea and edged close to China's Yangtze River on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Chinese aircraft carrier the Liaoning passed through the Miyako Strait off southwestern Japan on Saturday, days after China's defence ministry urged Japan to "stop all provocative moves" over the contested Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea, which Tokyo calls the Senkakus.
The PLA Navy announced on social media on Monday night that the Liaoning was en route to conduct "scheduled exercises" near Taiwan, to "test the effectiveness of troop training, and to improve the capacity to safeguard the country's sovereignty, safety and development interests". Similar naval exercises would continue to be organised as planned, it said.
After China's carrier group was spotted passing the waterway between Okinawa and Miyako islands towards the Pacific on Saturday, Japan has also sent destroyer JS Suzutsuki, a P-1 maritime patrol aircraft and a P-3C anti-submarine warfare patrol aircraft to gather information and monitor the movements of the Chinese vessels.Regional tensions have also been rising over Taiwan, where Beijing has in recent months ramped up "grey zone" warfare tactics against the democratic island it claims as its own.
China claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea and has overlapping territorial claims with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan.
China has been increasing its maritime activities in both the South China Sea and the East China Sea over the past few months, partly in response to Beijing's concerns over the increasing US military presence in the region because of escalating Sino-US tensions.
Beijing's rising assertiveness against counter claimants in the East and South Sea has resulted in unprecedented agreement across the Indo-Pacific.
The Philippines' defence chief Delfin Lorenzana on Sunday said the continued presence of Chinese maritime militias around the Whitsun Reef reveals their intent to further occupy features in the West Philippine Sea.
This comes as Lorenzana has called for the Chinese boats to leave Whitsun Reef (Julian Felipe Reef), located within its exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea.
The Whitsun Reef belongs to the Spratly archipelago, the territory of which is claimed by Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
China considers the Spratly archipelago to be its territory, despite the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling, which said there was no legal basis for China's maritime claims. The arbitration proceeding was initiated by the Philippines in January 2013, Sputnik reported.