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US destroyer challenges China’s claims in South China Sea

US destroyer challenges China’s claims in South China Sea
File photo of Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea in this still image from video taken by a P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft provided by the United States Navy May 21, 2015. Photo: Reuters

US destroyer challenges China’s claims in South China Sea

WASHINGTON — A United States Navy destroyer carried out a “freedom of navigation operation” on Thursday (Aug 10), coming within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island built up by China in the South China Sea, US officials told Reuters.

The operation came as President Donald Trump’s administration seeks 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” or “fonop” conducted during Mr Trump’s presidency. Neither China’s defence ministry nor its foreign ministry immediately responded to a request for comment.

The operation was the latest attempt to counter what Washington sees as Beijing’s efforts to limit freedom of navigation in the strategic waters, and comes as Mr Trump is seeking China’s cooperation to rein in North Korea.

Tensions have risen recently after North Korea carried out two nuclear tests last year and two ICBM tests last month, prompting a strong round of United Nations sanctions that angered Pyongyang who threatened to teach the US a “severe lesson”.

Mr Trump in turn responded by warning North Korea it would face “fire and fury” if it further threatened the United States.

US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis issued a stark warning to North Korea on Wednesday, telling Pyongyang that it should stop any actions that would lead to the “end of its regime and the destruction of its people”.

The US has criticised China’s construction of islands and build-up of military facilities in the sea, and is concerned they could be used to restrict free nautical movement.

The US military has a long-standing position that its operations are carried out throughout the world, including in areas claimed by allies, and they are separate from political considerations.

The Trump administration has vowed to conduct more robust South China Sea operations.

In July, a US warship sailed near a disputed island in the South China Sea claimed by China, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Experts and officials have criticised President Barack Obama for potentially reinforcing China’s claims by sticking to innocent passage, in which a warship effectively recognised a territorial sea by crossing it speedily without stopping.

China’s claims in the South China Sea, through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes each year are contested by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. REUTERS