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Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian takes part in a news conference in Beijing, on April 8, 2020.

Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters

China on Monday accused the U.S. of flexing its military muscles in the South China Sea by conducting joint exercises with two U.S. aircraft carrier groups in the strategic waterway.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said the exercises were performed “totally out of ulterior motives” and undermined stability in the area.

“Against such a backdrop, the U.S. deliberately dispatched massive forces to conduct large-scale military exercises in the relevant waters of the South China Sea to flex its military muscle,” Zhao said at a daily briefing.

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The U.S. Navy said over the weekend that the USS Nimitz and the USS Ronald Reagan along with their accompanying vessels and aircraft conducted exercises “designed to maximize air defence capabilities, and extend the reach of long-range precision maritime strikes from carrier-based aircraft in a rapidly evolving area of operations.”

China claims almost all of the South China Sea and routinely objects to any action by the U.S. military in the region. Five other governments claim all or part of the sea, through which approximately $5-trillion in goods are shipped every year.

China has sought to shore up its claim to the sea by building military bases on coral atolls, leading the U.S. to sail warships through the region in what it calls freedom of operation missions. Washington does not officially take a stand on the rival territorial claims in the region, but is closely allied with several of the claimants and insists that the waters and the airspace above be free to all countries.

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