WASHINGTON/BEIJING – An American warship on Sunday sailed close to a disputed island in the South China Sea occupied by Beijing, a US official said, a provocative move that could further strain relations between the superpowers.
The passage was a ”serious political and military provocation”, Beijing said, one that could further strain relations between the superpowers.
The USS Stethem passed less than 12 nautical miles (22 kilometers) from the tiny Triton Island. (AFP)
The USS Stethem destroyer passed less than 12 nautical miles (22 kilometers) from tiny Triton Island in the Paracel Islands archipelago, which is also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam, the official told AFP.
The operation, meant to demonstrate freedom of navigation in disputed waters, came just hours before a previously scheduled phone call between President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.
China did not immediately issue a response.
It was the second operation of its kind carried out by the United States since Trump took office and comes days after his administration took a number of steps that seemed sure to strain US-Chinese relations.
Trump had praised China’s efforts to bring pressure on North Korea over its nuclear and missile programs.
But when those efforts failed to produce results — Pyongyang conducted new missile tests in violation of UN Security Council resolutions — the American president made his frustration known.
Those efforts had “not worked out,” Trump tweeted on June 20, adding, “At least I know China tried!”
The latest US “freedom of navigation” exercise comes as Beijing continues muscular efforts to cement its claim to nearly all of the South China Sea, parts of which are also claimed by Taiwan and Southeast Asian nations including the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam.
The United Nations says countries can establish the reach of their territorial waters up to a limit of 12 nautical miles.
China has rapidly built reefs in the area into artificial islands capable of hosting military planes.
Freedom of navigation operations are designed to challenge the sovereignty of countries with claims to disputed territory. Washington has challenged annexations of South China Sea islets while advocating for a diplomatic settlement.
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