Published: Mon, February 11, 2019
Worldwide | By Isabel Fisher

United States warships again challenge China's claims in South China Sea

United States warships again challenge China's claims in South China Sea

China on Monday accused the United States of trying to "stir up trouble" by sending two USA destroyers near disputed South China Sea islands.

The guided-missile destroyers USS Spruance and USS Preble sailed within 12 nautical miles of the Spratly Islands as part of what the US Navy calls a "freedom of navigation operation".

The Chinese side immediately conducted verification and identification on the USA ships and warned them to leave, said the spokeswoman. Hua said that China expressed firm opposition and dissatisfaction at the move.

She demanded the U.S. "immediately stop its provocative actions" after the two United States guided-missile destroyers conducted what Washington called "freedom of navigation" exercises in the area.

Tensions have been high for years between Washington and Beijing in the South China Sea, with the USA regularly drawing Chinese ire.

Monday's operation was carried out "to challenge excessive maritime claims and preserve access to the waterways as governed by worldwide law", Commander Clay Doss, a spokesman for the US Navy's 7th Fleet, said. The US labelled the Chinese warship's actions unsafe and unprofessional, while Beijing said the US was threatening the safety and sovereignty of China.

China has laid claim to most of the South China Sea, which is used by several countries, including the USA, as an important shipping lane.

The rising military tension comes against the backdrop of an increasingly bitter trade war between China and the US.

Observers fear the trade dispute is just one element in the deteriorating relationship between the world's two top economies with top White House officials sharply criticising Beijing for everything from human rights abuses to cyber-warfare.

"That is true in the South China Sea as in other places around the globe", he said.

In mid-January, US and British warships conducted their first joint military exercises in the South China Sea since Beijing began building bases and air strips on islands.

It has claimed the USA is responsible for ratcheting up war fears in the region by sending warships and military planes close to territory China believes it is entitled to.

Beijing lays claim to most of the energy-rich South China Sea, overlapping with several of its neighbours, including Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam, and Taiwan.

The two countries are also at odds over regional security, including Washington's overtures to the self-ruled island of Taiwan, which China claims as its own.

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