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SECDEF: ‘We’re not going to be stopped by anybody’ from operating in South China Sea

Nobody will stop the U.S. military from operating in the South China Sea, according to Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

After U.S. aircraft carriers Nimitz and Ronald Reagan and their strike groups conducted dual-carrier operations in the South China Sea this month, Chinese outlet The Global Times reported that “any US aircraft carrier movement in the region is solely at the pleasure of the PLA,” citing analysts.

But Esper said the U.S. is unfazed by the comment.

“I don’t know what the Chinese meant by that hollow statement about American carriers being there by the pleasure of the PLA or something,” Esper said Tuesday during an event with the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “Look, American aircraft carriers have been in the South China Sea in the Indo-Pacific since World War II and we’ll continue to be there, and we’re not going to be stopped by anybody.

“We’re going to sail, fly and operate where international law allows and we do that, again, to assert international law and rights to back up the sovereignty of our friends and partners and to reassure them that we will be there to defend those things,” Esper said.

The Global Times is owned by the People’s Daily, both of which the U.S. State Department designated as “foreign missions” under the Foreign Missions Act in June and asserted the outlets are “effectively controlled” by the government of the People’s Republic of China.

Esper’s comments coincides with the State Department rejecting most of China’s claims in the South China Sea, asserting that Beijing’s “claims to offshore resources across most of the South China Sea are completely unlawful.”

“The world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement July 13.

In early July, the Nimitz and Reagan Carrier Strike groups were joined by an Air Force B-52 Stratofortress from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana to conduct a maritime integration exercise in the South China Sea. The rare operation involved air defense exercises, tactical maneuvering drills, simulated long-range maritime strike scenarios, among other things.

The carrier strike groups also picked up high-end dual-carrier exercises in the South China Sea to engage in tactical air defense exercises on July 17, the Navy said.

“Nimitz and Reagan Carrier Strike Groups are operating in the South China Sea, wherever international law allows, to reinforce our commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific, a rules based international order, and to our allies and partners in the region,” Rear Adm. Jim Kirk, commander of the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group, said in a Navy news release on Friday.

“Security and stability is essential to peace and prosperity for all nations, and it is for that reason the U.S. Navy has been present and ready in the Pacific for over 75 years,” Kirk said.

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