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

US destroyers sail in disputed South China Sea amid trade tensions

US destroyers sail in disputed South China Sea amid trade tensions

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the two guided-missile destroyers travelled within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands.

China and the U.S. have repeatedly traded barbs in the past over what Washington says is Beijing's militarisation of the South China Sea by building military installations on artificial islands and reefs.

Hua Chunying, a foreign ministry spokeswoman, said the PLA Navy warned the USS Spruance and USS Preble against approaching Chinese-claimed territory in the Spratly Islands.

She urged the USA to cease the "provocative actions".

Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia and Taiwan have competing claims in the region.

The US and its allies periodically send planes and warships near South China Sea islands and reefs claimed by Beijing to signal their right under worldwide law to pass through the waters, invariably angering China.

Monday's operation was carried out "to challenge excessive maritime claims and preserve access to the waterways as governed by global law", Commander Clay Doss, a spokesman for the US Navy's 7th Fleet, said.

United States negotiators were in Beijing on Monday for another round of talks on a trade deal with the clock ticking towards a March 1 deadline set by President Donald Trump.

Communist superpower China claims ownership over nearly all of the South China Sea - frequently slamming the United States and its allies for naval operations in the territory.

She demanded the United States "immediately stop its provocative actions" after the two U.S. guided-missile destroyers conducted what Washington called "freedom of navigation" exercises in the area. The operation was the second in the South China Sea reported by the US Navy this year.

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

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