A U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer sailed near the disputed islands in the South China Sea where China has built military installations on Monday, January 7, as trade talks between the two countries commenced.
The United States and its allies periodically send planes and warships through the area claimed by China — an act that reminds Beijing their right under international law to pass through the waters.
U.S. Pacific Fleet spokesperson Rachel McMarr told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that the USS McCampbell sailed within 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles) of the Paracel Islands “to challenge excessive maritime claims.”
The Paracel Islands are claimed by China as well as Taiwan and Vietnam.
China claims nearly all of the South China Sea as its territory, while Taiwan, Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam all claim parts.
McMarr added that the so-called “freedom of navigation” operations were “not about any one country, nor are they about making political statements.”
The sail-by happened while Chinese and US officials started talks in Beijing over finding a solution to the bitter trade war that saw the two countries imposing tariffs on more than $300 billion in total two-way trade last year.
“All operations … demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows. That is true in the South China Sea as in other places around the globe,” McMarr said.
However, the latest move happened at a particularly tense time in relations between the United States and China.
U.S. President Donald Trump accused Beijing this week of seeking to interfere in congressional elections.
China, meanwhile, recently denied a request for a U.S. warship to visit Hong Kong. Beijing also postponed joint military talks this month in protest against a U.S. decision to impose sanctions on a Chinese military agency and its director for buying Russian fighter jets and a surface-to-air missile system. (Ritchel Mendiola/AJPress)