US warship challenges China’s territorial claims
WASHINGTON: A United States Navy destroyer carried out a “freedom of navigation operation” on Thursday, coming within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island built up by China in the South China Sea, US officials said.
The operation came as President Donald Trump’s administration sought Chinese cooperation in dealing with North Korea’s missile and nuclear programmes and could complicate efforts to secure a common stance.
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the USS John S. McCain travelled close to Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands, among a string of islets, reefs and shoals. China has territorial disputes with its neighbours over the area.
It was the third “freedom of navigation operation” during Trump’s presidency.
Thursday’s operation was the latest attempt to counter what Washington saw as Beijing’s efforts to limit freedom of navigation in the strategic waters, and came as Trump was seeking China’s cooperation to rein in North Korea.
China’s Defence Ministry said two Chinese warships “jumped into action” and warned the US ship to leave, labelling the move a “provocation” that seriously harmed mutual trust.
“China is resolutely opposed to this kind of show of force and pushing of regional militarisation by the US that may easily cause an unexpected incident at sea or in the air,” it said in a statement.
China’s Foreign Ministry said the operation had violated international and Chinese law and seriously harmed Beijing’s sovereignty and security.
“China is very displeased with this and will bring up the issue with the US,” the ministry said.
The US had criticised China’s construction of islands and buildup of military facilities in the sea, and was concerned they could be used to restrict free nautical movement.
Twelve nautical miles marks the territorial limits recognised internationally. Sailing within those 12 miles was meant to show that the US did not recognise territorial claims there.
The US said it would like to see more international participation in freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea.
US military had a long-standing position that its operations were carried out throughout the world, including in areas claimed by allies, and they were separate from political considerations.
The Trump administration had vowed to conduct more robust South China Sea operations. Reuters
United States Navy destroyer USS ‘John S. McCain’ sailed close to an artificial island China has built up in the South China Sea as part of a ‘freedom of navigation operation’ on Thursday.