- Two US Navy guided-missile destroyers conducted a freedom-of-navigation operation in the South China Sea Monday, challenging China’s excessive claims to the region.
- This marked the US Navy’s third such operation in the South China Sea this year.
- Beijing condemned the latest operation, just as it has the four Taiwan Strait transits carried out by US warships this year.
Two US Navy destroyers challenged China’s excessive maritime claims in the South China Sea Monday, angering Beijing.
The guided-missile destroyers USS Preble and USS Chung-Hoon conducted a freedom-of-navigation operation, sailing within 12 nautical miles of two Chinese-occupied reefs in the Spratly Islands, US Navy 7th Fleet spokesman Commander Clay Doss told Reuters.
The operation, the third by the US Navy in the South China Sea this year, was specifically intended "to challenge excessive maritime claims and preserve access to the waterways as governed by international law," he said.
Beijing was critical of the operation, condemning it with rhetoric it has used to express its displeasure with some previous operations.
"The relevant moves by the U.S. warships have infringed on China’s sovereignty and undermined peace and security in relevant waters. We firmly oppose that," Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters at a press briefing Monday.
"China urges the United States to stop these provocative actions," he added.
China bristles at these operations, often accusing the US of violating its sovereignty by failing to request permission from China to enter what it considers Chinese territorial waters. The US does not acknowledge China’s claims to the South China Sea, which were discredited by an international tribunal three years ago.
7th Fleet said that these operations are designed to "demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows."
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy reportedly "identified and warned of" the US Navy vessels. The ships do not appear to have encountered anything like what the USS Decatur ran up against last September, when a Chinese destroyer attempted to force the ship off course, risking a collision.
The US Navy is not only challenging China in the South China Sea though. It is also ruffling Beijing’s feathers by sending warships through the closely-watched Taiwan Strait on the regular. The US has conducted four of these transits this year, each time upsetting Beijing.
The latest operation in the South China Sea comes as trade war tensions expected to rise in the coming days. President Donald Trump is preparing to significantly increase trade penalties and tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars worth of Chinese exports in response to Beijing’s unwillingness to bend on trade.
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