US carrier group back in South China Sea

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A US aircraft carrier and its strike group have returned to the South China Sea after a port call in Singapore, deploying in the disputed region as tensions with China rise over a possible visit to Taiwan by congressional leader Nancy Pelosi.

Officials with the US Navy's Seventh Fleet confirmed the deployment of the USS Ronald Reagan to the vital trade route but did not comment on questions about tensions over the trip by Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives.

"USS Ronald Reagan and her strike group are under way, operating in the South China Sea following a successful port visit to Singapore," Commander Hayley Sims said in a statement to Reuters on Thursday.

Sims said the Reagan "is continuing normal, scheduled operations as part of her routine patrol in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific".

When asked for comment, China's foreign ministry said the US was once again "flexing its muscles" in the South China Sea with the Reagan's sailing.

"It is clear from this for everyone to see who is the biggest threat to the South China Sea and the Asian region's peace and stability," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a regular briefing on Thursday.

News of the deployment of the Japan-based carrier comes as Beijing and Washington trade diplomatic blows over Pelosi's visit, reportedly due to take place next month after being postponed earlier in the year. Pelosi has not confirmed the possible trip.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Wednesday he had spoken with Pelosi and given her a security assessment but any comments about a trip she might make to Taiwan would have to come from her office.

Tensions over democratically-ruled Taiwan are expected to be discussed when US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping hold their fifth phone call, which could take place as soon as Thursday.

China has issued stern warnings to US officials about Pelosi's possible visit to Taiwan, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said on Monday. Beijing considers Taiwan to be part of its territory and has never renounced using force to bring the island under its control.

The Reagan strike group had been operating in the South China Sea earlier in the month before heading for a five-day rest stop in Singapore at the weekend.

Its group's return to the South China Sea came as a group of Japanese MPs including two former defence ministers met Taiwan's president in a rare high-level visit to discuss regional security.

The delegation, led by legislator and former defence minister Shigeru Ishiba, said it wanted to reach an agreement with Taiwan on defence issues and prepare for any potential conflict in the region, while also seeking to prevent conflict breaking out.

Reuters with AP

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