April 21 (UPI) -- The U.S. Navy said Tuesday the amphibious assault ship USS America and two other vessels are operating in the South China Sea near a standoff between China and Malaysia.
The Navy said in a Twitter message that the America and guided-missile destroyers USS Bunker Hill and USS Barry were traveling to the South China Sea "in support of security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region" with the hashtag "Free and open Indo Pacific."
A Chinese government research ship last week started observing another ship in disputed water operated by Malaysia state-owned oil company Petronas. The incident initially led to a warning from the United States to China, but the Chinese military continued to survey the Malaysian vessel.
The standoff escalated when the Chinese Coast Guard joined in the surveillance while the Royal Malaysian Navy and Malaysia Enforcement Agency came in support of the Petronas ship. The China Coast Guard also started following Malaysian ship Luconia Shoals, which is in waters claimed by the country's Exclusive Economic Zone. China also claims that area.
The Malaysian resources are stretched with many of its ships monitoring the Andaman Sea in an effort to stop Rohingya refugee ships often leaving Bangladesh from reaching the Peninsular Malaysia because of coronavirus fears.