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The USS Ronald Reagan sails along the coast of the Philippines in the Philippine Sea on its way to a port visit in Manila on Tuesday, June 26, 2018.

The USS Ronald Reagan sails along the coast of the Philippines in the Philippine Sea on its way to a port visit in Manila on Tuesday, June 26, 2018. (Kaila Peters/U.S. Navy)

The USS Ronald Reagan sails along the coast of the Philippines in the Philippine Sea on its way to a port visit in Manila on Tuesday, June 26, 2018.

The USS Ronald Reagan sails along the coast of the Philippines in the Philippine Sea on its way to a port visit in Manila on Tuesday, June 26, 2018. (Kaila Peters/U.S. Navy)

The USS Antietam and USS Ronald Reagan conduct underway replenishment in the Philippine Sea on June 21, 2018.

The USS Antietam and USS Ronald Reagan conduct underway replenishment in the Philippine Sea on June 21, 2018. (William McCann/U.S. Navy)

YOKOSUKA, Japan — The USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier and two Navy cruisers arrived in Manila on Tuesday after sailing through the South China Sea, the Associated Press reported.

The Reagan is the third Navy carrier to transit the contentious waters this year following patrols by the USS Carl Vinson in February and the USS Theodore Roosevelt in April.

China and the U.S. have clashed periodically over naval operations in the area. China, at odds with its neighbors over competing territorial claims, has been building military bases on reclaimed land and harassing ships in disputed waters.

Last month, one of the cruisers accompanying the Reagan — the USS Antietam — and the San Diego-based USS Higgins drew the ire of Beijing when they came within 12 nautical miles of Chinese-claimed islets during a freedom of navigation patrol in the South China Sea.

The U.S. uninvited the Chinese Navy from Rim of the Pacific exercises this year after Pentagon officials said they had “strong evidence” Beijing deployed anti-ship and surface-to-air missiles and electronic jammers to contested areas in the South China Sea.

The Reagan and Antietam sailors along with personnel from the USS Chancellorsville will be volunteering at local hospitals and schools or going on Morale, Welfare and Recreation hiking, diving and snorkeling tours while they’re in the Philippines’ capital, according to a Navy news release.

“Manila is one of the favorite port visits for sailors in the Pacific thanks to the beauty and welcoming people of the Philippines,” Rear Adm. Marc Dalton, commander of Task Force 70, said in the release.

The Reagan, Antietam and Chancellorsville have been patrolling the Indo-Pacific region since leaving their home at Yokosuka in May.

The warships recently finished Malabar 2018 with India and Japan near Guam. During the nine-day exercise in the Philippine Sea, the ships hosted liaison officers from the other countries and practiced air defense, surface and anti-submarine warfare, communications, search and rescue, underway replenishment and medical evacuation, the Navy said.

From June 16 through 23, the Reagan also hosted Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force personnel who worked with U.S. sailors on interoperability and conducted an anti-submarine warfare exercise, the Navy said in its statement.

“This continued presence in the Indo-Pacific at sea and in visits to ports like [Manila], promotes security and stability that has driven the peace and prosperity that benefits all regional countries,” Dalton said in the release.

The warships will continue their patrols after the Manila port visit.

Doornbos.caitlin@stripes.com Twitter: @CaitlinDoornbos

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Caitlin Doornbos covers the Pentagon for Stars and Stripes after covering the Navy’s 7th Fleet as Stripes’ Indo-Pacific correspondent at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. Previously, she worked as a crime reporter in Lawrence, Kan., and Orlando, Fla., where she was part of the Orlando Sentinel team that placed as finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news. Caitlin has a Bachelor of Science in journalism from the University of Kansas and master’s degree in defense and strategic studies from the University of Texas at El Paso.

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