This article first appeared March 3 at 4:15 p.m. and has been updated
The U.S. Navy has dispatched a small armada to the South China Sea.
The Japan-based Antietam, officials said, was conducting a "routine patrol" separate from the Stennis, following up patrols conducted by the destroyer McCambell and the dock landing ship Ashland in late February.
"In my opinion China is clearly militarizing the South China Sea," Harris testified on Feb. 24. "You'd have to believe in a flat Earth to believe otherwise."
Overnight, Chinese officials dismissed claims that China was militarizing the region, pointing to the Stennis's patrol as evidence that the U.S. was to blame for the increased military tensions.
"The accusation [that China is militarizing the region] can lead to a miscalculation of the situation," said Fu Ying, a spokeswoman for China's National People's Congress. "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."
"Our ships and aircraft operate routinely throughout the Western Pacific — including the South China Sea — and have for decades," Cmdr. Clay Doss said in a statement. "In 2015 alone, Pacific Fleet ships sailed about 700 combined days in the South China Sea."
"Clearly the Navy and DoD is demonstrating its full commitment to presence and freedom of navigation in the region," said Jerry Hendrix, a retired Navy captain and analyst with the Center for a New American Security in Washington, D.C. "With the full carrier strike group and the command ship, the Navy is showing the scope of its interests and ability to project presence and power around world."
These disputes have led to violence in the past. In 1974, a conflict between South Vietnam and China led to a shootout in the Paracel Islands, located between Vietnam and China's Hainan Island. That dispute continues.
David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News.