The US has sent two Navy aircraft carriers to the contested waters for the first time in six years. The US drills come just as Beijing wrapped up its own series of exercises in the South China Sea.

China's Foreign Ministry has condemned the US drills in the South China Sea, saying that Washington deliberately dispatched its aircraft carries to 'flex its muscles'. According to the ministry's spokesperson Zhao Lijian, the US move was aimed to drive a wedge between the two countries.

Beijing's statement comes in response to the US naval exercise in the disputed waters involving two aircraft carriers – the Nimitz and the Reagan. According to the US Navy, the manoeuvres will send an unambiguous message to the US allies regarding Washington's commitment to "security and stability" in the region.

The United States previously voiced concerns about Beijing's military exercises in the sea around the Paracel Islands. The Pentagon warned that the move would further destabilise the situation in the South China Sea and violate an international pact to avoid activities that would escalate disputes in the region.

The majority of islands in the South China Sea are controlled by Beijing; however, the territory is also claimed by several other countries, including Vietnam, Cambodia, Brunei and the Philippines – all members of ASEAN.