U.S. carrier strike group returns to South China Sea amid Taiwan tensions

HONG KONG, July 28 (Reuters) – A U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. House of Representatives.

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.

China has issued stern warnings to U.S. 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.

Singapore-based security scholar Ian Storey said he would expect Chinese vessels to shadow the strike group, based on recent actions as well as the latest tensions.

U.S. officials on Tuesday accused China of increased “provocations” against rival claimants in the South China Sea and said its “aggressive and irresponsible behavior” meant it was only a matter of time before there was a major incident or accident.

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