US naval fleet in South China Sea
The US Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur patrols in the Philippine Sea Reuters file photo

An American naval fleet spearheaded by the aircraft carrier, USS John C Stennis, is sailing in the South China Sea closer to disputed territories in an apparent show of force against Beijing. The vessel is accompanied by cruisers Mobile Bay and Antietam, and destroyers USS Stockdale and USS Chung-Hoon, along with thousands of US sailors.

US officials have said it is a regular patrol mission in the region, where China has recently racked up tensions by mobilising surface-to-air missiles, fighter jets and military radar system. The presence of the US carrier strike group, a relatively small armada, is bound to infuriate Beijing officials.

The war of words between China and the US has been intensifying in recent months over increasing activities in the South China Sea region, a breeding ground of bitter geopolitical territorial disputes.

"We feel that the US actions in sending vessels and planes near to the Spratly islands and reefs as a show of force are not a good thing. It arouses a feeling of disgust among the Chinese people," Fu Ying, spokesperson of the National People's Congress (NPC) and a former vice-president, told reporters on 4 March.

"The US has said it doesn't take a stance on South China Sea territorial disputes but its actions seem to be aimed at agitating tensions, which raise serious questions over its motives."

The US has long been accusing Beijing of militarisation of the South China Sea. But Beijing says the deployments are for defence purposes as it unilaterally claims the mineral-rich islands as its sovereign territories.

"The accusation [that China is militarising the region] can lead to a miscalculation of the situation. If you take a look at the matter closely, it's the US sending the most advanced aircraft and military vessels to the South China Sea," added Fu.

The US has conducted two controversial navigational patrols in the South China Sea since October 2015. During one of the patrols, a US warship sailed 12 nautical miles off a disputed island in a move dubbed provocative by Beijing.