US warship sails near disputed S. China Sea islands
WASHINGTON: A United States Navy destroyer sailed near islands claimed by China in the South China Sea on Tuesday, three US officials said, even as President Donald Trump's administration seeks Chinese cooperation in reining in North Korea's missile and nuclear programmes.
The operation was the latest attempt to counter what Washington sees as Beijing's efforts to limit freedom of navigation in the strategic waters, but it was not as provocative as previous ones carried out since Mr Trump took office in January.
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said guided-missile destroyer Chafee carried out normal manoeuvring operations that challenged "excessive maritime claims" near the Paracel Islands.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said China had lodged "stern representations" with the US and reiterated that the Paracel Islands are Chinese territory.
"China immediately sent naval vessels and military jets to investigate and identify as well as warn the vessel and ask it to leave," she said yesterday.
Unlike in August, when a US Navy destroyer came within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island built up by China in the South China Sea, officials said the destroyer on Tuesday sailed close to but not within that range of the islands.
Twelve nautical miles mark internationally recognised territorial limits - sailing within that range is meant to show that the US does not recognise the territorial claims.
The Pentagon said the US carried out regular freedom-of-navigation operations and will continue to do so.- REUTERS