A U.S. Navy destroyer carried out a “freedom of navigation operation” on Thursday, within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island built up by China in the South China Sea, U.S. 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.
The officials said that the USS John S. McCain traveled close to Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands, in a challenge to China’s territorial claims.
In March, a U.S. Navy warship sailed within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island built up by China in the South China Sea, the first such challenge to Beijing in the strategic waterway since U.S. President Donald Trump took office.
The U.S. patrol, the first of its kind since October 2016, marked the latest attempt to counter what Washington sees as Beijing’s efforts to limit freedom of navigation in the strategic waters.
U.S. officials, had said that the USS Dewey traveled close to Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands among a string of islets, reefs and shoals over which China has territorial disputes with its neighbours.
The move angered Beijing, which reiterated its position that China has “indisputable sovereignty” over the Spratly Islands and their surrounding waters.
“The U.S. military’s action was showing off force, promoting regional militarisation and could have easily led to a sea or air incident.
“The Chinese army has expressed firm opposition and has lodged solemn representations with the U.S.,” Ren Guoqiang, spokesman for China’s Defence Ministry had said.