A US Carrier Strike Group has entered the South China Sea to conduct "routine operations" and "ensure freedom of the seas", the US Navy has said.
The Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group, deployed just days after Joe Biden became President, is on a scheduled deployment to the US 7th Fleet and entered the disputed and strategically important waterway on Sunday alongside three warships.
China's Foreign Ministry said the US often sends ships and aircraft into the South China Sea to "flex its muscles", adding it is not good for peace.
The deployment comes amid heightened tensions between China and Taiwan.
Captain Eric Anduze, USS Theodore Roosevelt’s Commanding Officer, said: "We all benefit from free and open access to the seas and our operations represent our commitment to maintaining regional security and stability."
China claims almost all of the South China Sea and has consistently hit back at any US military action in the area.
Five other governments claim all or part of the sea, through which trillions of dollars in trade is shipped through each year.
China has looked to cement its claim to the waters by building military bases on coral atolls.
Rear Admiral Doug Verissimo, Commander, Carrier Strike Group 9, said it is "vital" the US maintains its presence and continues to "promote the rules-based order which has allowed us all to prosper".
Whilst in the South China Sea, the strike group is conducting maritime security operations, including flight operations with both fixed and rotary-wing aircraft, the US Navy said.
It will also see maritime strike exercises and coordinated tactical training between surface and air units.
The Strike Group consists of USS Theodore Roosevelt, Carrier Air Wing 11, USS Bunker Hill, Destroyer Squadron 23, USS Russell and USS John Finn.
7th Fleet is the US Navy’s largest forward-deployed fleet and employs 50 to 70 ships and submarines across the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean.
It routinely operates and interacts with 35 maritime nations while conducting missions to "preserve and protect a free and open Indo-Pacific region", the US Navy added.
Cover image: Library photo of aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt in the Phillipine Sea (Picture: US Department of Defense).