Shanghai: A US Navy aircraft carrier conducted exercises in the contested South China Sea on Friday, the US navy said in a statement.

A strike group led by the USS Ronald Reagan conducted flight operations and high-end maritime stability operations and exercises, the statement said.

Aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan steams through the San Bernardino Strait, crossing from the Philippine Sea into the South China Sea. Credit:US Department of Defense

"Integration with our joint partners is essential to ensuring joint force responsiveness and lethality, and maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific," US Navy Commander Joshua Fagan, Task Force 70 air operations officer aboard USS Ronald Reagan, was quoted as saying.

The drill comes amid heightened tensions between the United States and China. Washington has criticised Beijing over its novel coronavirus response and accuses it of taking advantage of the pandemic to push territorial claims in the South China Sea and elsewhere.

The United States has long opposed China's expansive territorial claims in the South China Sea and has sent warships regularly through the strategic waterway.

China has objected to such exercises and said the US rejection of its claims in the South China Sea has raised tension and undermined stability in the region.

China claims nine tenths of the resource-rich South China Sea, through which some $US3 trillion ($4.1 trillion) of trade passes a year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have competing claims.

Reuters

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