US warship sails near disputed islands in South China Sea

WASHINGTON/BEIJING: A US Navy destroyer carried out a “freedom of navigation” operation on Friday, coming within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island built by China in the South China Sea, US officials said. The operation, which infuriated Beijing, was the latest attempt to counter what Washington sees as China’s efforts to limit freedom of navigation in the strategic waters.
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the USS Mustin travelled close to Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands and carried out manoeuvring operations. China has territorial disputes with its neighbours over the area.
The United States has criticised China’s construction of islands and build-up of military facilities in the area, and is concerned they could be used to restrict free nautical movement.
The latest operation, the first since January, comes just a day after US President Donald Trump lit a slow-burning fuse by signing a presidential memorandum that will target up to $60 billion in Chinese goods with tariffs, following a 30-day consultation period that starts once a list is published.
China’s Defence Ministry said two Chinese naval ships had been sent to identify the US ship and warn it to leave.
It described the actions of the US ship as seriously harming China’s sovereignty and security which threatens regional peace and stability.
Such actions cause forces from both countries to come into close proximity and could easily cause a misjudgment or accident, and create serious political and military provocation for China, it added.
China has always dedicated itself to protecting freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea, but opposes “illegal and provocative” moves in the name of freedom of navigation, it said.
“We demand the US side earnestly respects China’s sovereignty and security and the strong wishes of countries in the region to protect peace, stability and tranquillity, and not make trouble out of nothing and stir up havoc,” it said.
“The provocative behaviour by the US side will only cause the Chinese military to further strengthen building up defence abilities in all areas.”
China’s navy will carry out combat drills in the South China Sea, the military’s official newspaper said on Friday, calling the move part of regular annual exercises. — Reuters