The U.S. sent a fighter-jet-carrying warship to join drills near the disputed Scarborough Shoal for the first time, sending a pointed message to China as tensions simmer over territorial claims in the region.
The USS Wasp -- an amphibious assault ship outfitted last year with F-35B jets -- joined the annual Exercise Balikatan with the Philippines this month. A ship matching the USS Wasp’s description was spotted in waters “near the Scarborough Shoal,” a feature occupied by China since a tense standoff in seven years ago, the Philippines’ ABS-CBN News reported Tuesday.
The USS Wasp didn’t pass within 25 nautical miles of the shoal, according to a U.S. defense official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The figure suggests that the ship wasn’t conducting a so-called freedom of navigation operation, a practice criticized by China that the U.S. uses to assert international sailing rights within 12 nautical miles of disputed features.