Satellite images reportedly showing the USS Ronald Reagan being flanked by several battleships in the South China Sea circulated on social media Saturday.
A Chinese Weibo social media user published a satellite image allegedly showing U.S Navy aircraft carrier the USS Ronald Reagan surrounded by at least seven other, purportedly Chinese, warships on 24 September.
The image, which later spread to other social media platforms, also suggested that the USS Ronald Reagan was alone when it was allegedly surrounded northeast of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, although aircraft carriers are usually accompanied by other warships.
The Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group is underway in the South China Sea. The Commander, Task Force (CTF) 70 held a change of command ceremony on Sept. 29 aboard USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76). Rear Adm. George M. Wikoff assumed command of CTF 70 from Rear Adm. Karl O. Thomas.
The Twitter post said the image was taken northeast of the Spratly Islands, a contested chain of islands over which China, Malaysia, Taiwan, the Philippines and Vietnam dispute sovereignty.
USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier and some unidentified warships were seen sailing in the area north-east of Spratly Islands in the South China Sea on September 28. pic.twitter.com/eQNOBku8eV
— Duan Dang (@duandang) September 28, 2019
Spokeswoman for the US 7th Fleet refused to confirm whether the incident really took place, saying only that the carrier is “conducting routine operations”. A spokesperson for the Chinese Defence Ministry neither confirmed nor denied that the US warship had been surrounded, but noted when responding to a question about their publication that the USS Ronald Reagan was sent to the region to “flex muscles and escalate regional militarisation”.
“We are firmly opposed to that. We urge the US side to respect the security concerns of countries in the region and make positive contributions to the peace and stability in the South China Sea”, the spokesperson said.
USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) is a Nimitz-class, nuclear-powered supercarrier in the service of the United States Navy.
The US, sometimes in cooperation with its allies, has been sending warships on so-called freedom of navigation operations, claiming to be protecting vital maritime routes, currently controlled by China, despite several other regional states claiming sovereignty over various islands in the South China Sea.
Beijing has repeatedly slammed these American operations as “provocations” and cautioned Washington against escalating the situation in the region with its “reckless” actions.