The four-ship U.S. strike group that patrolled the disputed South China Sea was followed by Chinese warships, a show of force that prompted a hard-line response from China doubling down on its claim to nearly all of the resource-rich sea.
Just days after the carrier Stennis and her escorts departed the South China Sea, China's foreign minister has doubled down on China's claim to ownership of almost all of the hotly contested body of water.
Yi also batted away suggestions that China was militarizing the region, a charge levied last month by U.S. Pacific Command head Adm. Harry Harris at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.
"China cannot be labeled as the most militaristic. This label is more suited to other countries," Wang said.
"People's Liberation Army (Navy) ships remained in the vicinity of Stennis during its time in the South China Sea," the U.S. Navy said in its Monday press release.
An F/A-18E Super Hornet performs a flyby on March 7, 2016, during an aerial change of command ceremony above USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) in the Philippine Sea.
Photo Credit: MC Seaman Tomas Compian/Navy
The Stennis group's said the interactions with the Chinese navy were professional and non-threatening.
"Based on the bridge-to-bridge communications USS Chung-Hoon had with the [People's Liberation Army-Navy] ships, it is clear that the Chinese Navy prides itself on professional communications and interactions," said Cmdr. Tom Ogden, commanding officer of destroyer Chung-Hoon, in a press release.
The U.S. Navy has characterized the patrol through the South China Sea as a "routine" operation, similar to its closely-watched freedom of navigation patrols near China's recently built islands. In October, before the Lassen's patrol within 12 miles of the Spratly Islands, the chief of naval operations called the mission non-provocative, adding that it was "part of routine navigation in international waters."
"Nobody in Beijing thinks that the United States doesn't care about what's happening in the South China Sea, but they might tell our allies that," he said. "They might say, 'Hey, you say the U.S. has your back but we don't ever see them around here.'"
While tensions remain high in the South China Sea, China's navy and the U.S. Navy have continued to talk and have sought to head off any unnecessary hostilities, which has come in the wake of high-level run-ins.
David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News.