MANILA - One of the largest American aircraft carriers entered Philippine waters on Tuesday, after US Defense Secretary Mark Esper accused China of destabilizing the Indo-Pacific.
Esper on Sunday accused China of predatory economics, intellectual property theft and "weaponizing the global commons" -- charges which threatened to inflame already heightened tensions between Washington and Beijing as they wage an escalating trade war.
The USS Reagan, the only aircraft carrier that is forward-deployed to the Indo-Pacific, will be open for a tour by the Philippine press.
Longer than Paris' Eiffel Tower, the warship can can fit roughly 100 fighter jets and aircraft used for electronic warfare and anti-submarine operations.
The Reagan is one of 10 US Nimitz class aircraft carriers that used to be the biggest warships until the arrival of the USS Gerald Ford in 2017, which has yet to be deployed.
“We want everyone to understand, it’s lethal," Rear Admiral Patrick Piercey said of the Reagan in 2015, when it still belonged under the Carrier Strike Group 9 that he commanded then.
"Ultimately, this is an aircraft carrier. It is at the high end. It represents the combat power of the United States. We want anyone who will potentially challenge us to see we’re lethal, we’re ready, we’re credible" he added.
While the Reagan is “one of America’s most visible symbols of resolve and lethal instruments of war," the ship operates with the battlecry “peace through strength” by using its presence to deter enemies from making any attempt at armed conflict, according to its website.
Beijing claims nearly all of the South China Sea, where it has built reefs into artificial islands capable of hosting military planes.
The Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam contest Beijing's claims to the waterway, through which $3.4 trillion of goods pass annually.
Manila's defense ally Washington is not a party to the maritime dispute, but has been calling for restraint and freedom of navigation on the South China Sea.
US-Chinese relations have been strained on multiple levels since Donald Trump became president in 2017. A trade war launched by Trump has infuriated Beijing, as did his authorization of a $1.3 billion arms sale to Taiwan, which China considers a rebel province.
Trump on Thursday slapped 10 percent tariffs on $300 billion in Chinese imports, stunning financial markets and ending a month-long trade war truce. China vowed on Friday to fight back.
With reports from Chiara Zambrano, ABS-CBN News; Agence France-Presse; Reuters