In a move likely to stoke anger in Beijing just days before it marks a key anniversary, the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier is conducting operations in the disputed South China Sea, near China's man-made islands, new images have shown.

Satellite images posted to social media showed what appeared to be the Reagan and several unidentified warships, possibly U.S. and Chinese, sailing in the area northeast of the contested Spratly Island chain in the waterway on Saturday.

Asked about the images, the Reagan's location and if it was meant to send a message to China, a spokeswoman for the U.S. 7th Fleet declined to confirm the carrier's location, but said it was currently underway, "conducting routine operations."