The US navy said an aircraft carrier strike group has begun what it calls routine patrols in the South China Sea. Supported by a fleet of warships, the group led by the Nimitz-class USS Carl Vinson kicked off its patrol on Saturday, 18 February, in a move bound to raise fresh tensions in the heavily disputed waterway.

The development also comes within days of warning from China, which claims sole custody of almost the entire energy-rich and strategically important South China Sea. Only a few days ago, Beijing issued a warning to the fresh US administration against adopting a combative tone when it comes to the South China Sea disputes.

However, the strike group's commander Rear Admiral James Kilby said in a statement released on Facebook: "The training completed over the past few weeks has really brought the team together and improved our effectiveness and readiness as a strike group. We are looking forward to demonstrating those capabilities while building upon existing strong relationships with our allies, partners and friends in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region."

Besides claiming most reefs and islets in the South China Sea challenging multiple countries, Beijing has constantly been stepping up its military activities in the region including setting up artificial islands.

Only on Friday, China wrapped up its own naval exercises in the region led by its aircraft carrier.

South China Sea
Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea in this still image from video taken by a P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft provided by the United States Navy U.S. Navy/Handout via Reuters/File Photo