US war­ship chal­lenges China’s ter­ri­to­rial claims

New Straits Times - - World -

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

AFP PIC

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.

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