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Two U.S. aircraft carriers kicked off joint exercises in the Philippine Sea on Sunday, a day after Southeast Asian leaders delivered some of their strongest remarks opposing Beijing’s claim to virtually the entire South China Sea on historical grounds.

The USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Groups began the drills to bolster the United States’ “responsive, flexible, and enduring commitments” to mutual defense agreements with allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific, the Navy said in a statement.

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