The Navy's top officer made a trip to the world's most contested waters over the weekend, stopping aboard the carrier John C. Stennis in the South China Sea.

The Stennis has essentially moved into the South China Sea, spending all of May the last month there in what experts say is a not-so-subtle message to China that the U.S. is going be present in what China claims as their waters. 

"Everybody in the region is concerned about the stability, peacefulness and the prosperity of this region," Adm. John Richardson, chief of naval operations, said in a video posted on his official Facebook page. "As I talk to them, I know it's going to be OK because we have the John C. Stennis Strike Group on station here in the South China Sea."

Richardson went on to say that each sailor in the Stennis CSGgroup was an important reassurance to U.S. allies of their its commitment to the area.

"When they talk about regional security, when they talk about stability, when they talk about maintaining the peace, when they talk about understanding the strategic implications of this part of the world, they're talking about you," Richardson told the sailorssaid.

Richardson spent Saturday and Sunday on the carrier, presiding over the reenlistment of 21 sailors on Saturday evening, according to a Navy release. CNO's visit preceded the high-level Asian security talks in Beijing the U.S. is participating in.

The Bremerton, Washington-based Stennis has spent nearly all of its deployment in the South China Sea. It first arrived there in early March and, except for a brief exercise with the South Korean military, it has been patrolling paroling the South China Sea ever since. 

That's a message to China, which lays claim to almost all of the resource rich waters as its territory, said Bryan Clark, retired submarine officer and analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

"Its clearly a show of force," Clark said. "The U.S. is trying to push back on this notion that it's not involved in an area of the world where another major power has moved in to set up shop."

Stennis deployed from Bremerton Jan. 15 on a seven-month deployment. The carrier Ronald Reagan, which is forward-deployed in 7th Fleet, recently wrapped up a maintenance period and departed Japan on June 4 for its summer patrol, raising the possibility of a second carrier headed to the South China Sea before Stennis departs for home.

David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News. Before that, he reported for Navy Times.

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