Navy warship has sailed close to a Chinese claimed island in the South China
Sea, Pentagon officials say, marking the second such operation under Donald Trump’s presidency.
The USS Stethem guided missile destroyer was ordered to sail within 12 nautical miles from Triton Island, part of the Paracel Islands located between Vietnam and China, Fox News
reported Sunday, citing two US military officials.
The Stethem was being shadowed by a Chinese warship as it made the pass earlier in the day.
One official said the mission was aimed at challenging territorial claims over Triton Island by China, Vietnam and Taiwan.
Territorial waters are generally defined by international law as extending at most 12 nautical miles from a country’s coastline. Sailing inside these boundaries signals a country’s disregard for a nation’s borders.
China claims sovereignty over most of the South China Sea.
Triton is one of the seven artificial islands that Beijing has constructed over the past few years, a move that Washington has denounced as a land reclamation project.
Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. (Photo by Reuters)
The US has also criticized China’s decision to move missile defense systems and a range of other weapons to the islands.
This is the second time since Trump’s inauguration that the US military dispatched one of its warships to challenge China’s territorial claims.
The other pass took place in early June, when US officials confirmed that the USS Dewey had traveled within 12 nautical miles of the Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands.
The operations are carried out to protect what the US calls “Freedom of Navigation” in the sea, which acts as a gateway for trillions of dollars in maritime trade each year.
China has dismissed the allegations, accusing the US of meddling in regional disputes and deliberately escalating the situation in the South China Sea.
The latest development is expected to raise the heat in an already tense atmosphere between the US and China.
Trump has recently expressed his disappointment with Beijing over a range of issues, including its failure to curb North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons program.
Washington has also accused the Chinese government of failing to reduce human trafficking, ranking China among the countries with the worst record in this regard.