President Donald Trump’s Navy confronted China on Wednesday over its efforts to limit freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, according to anonymous U.S. officials who reported that the USS Dewey appeared so close to an artificial island built up by China that Beijing sent them a warning and issued a complaint.
The confrontation took place near Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands, which is a region where China often has territorial disputes with neighboring countries.
The ship stayed exactly 12 nautical miles away from the Chinese coastline, which a U.N. convention defined as the edge of a coastal territory.
China’s claims of sovereignty over large regions of the South China Sea were declared not valid in a ruling last year, which was made by an international arbitration court in The Hague.
China’s construction of islands and military facilities in the sea have been seen by the U.S. and its partners in the region as Beijing tries to restrict free movement. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Taiwan all rely on the area being open to ships for trade, which amounts to approximately $5 trillion of business every year.
Proving no details of the mission to reporters, Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis issued a statement: “We operate in the Asia-Pacific region on a daily basis, including in the South China Sea. We operate in accordance with international law.”
“The U.S. side’s errant ways have caused damage to the improving situation in the South China Sea and are not conducive to peace and stability,” said Chinese defense ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang in a monthly briefing.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang warned that the naval warship was “very likely to cause unexpected sea and air accidents”.
China’s relationship with the U.S., which had improved after President Trump hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping for a meeting at his Florida resort last month, is likely to now take a turn for the worse; especially since he has more issues with the Chinese, including unfair trade policies and currency manipulation.
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