US destroyer sails through the South China Sea

A US Navy warship on Friday passed through waters claimed by China near disputed islands in the South China Sea – a move that Beijing called “illegal” and “provocative”.

Navy Commander Gary Ross said the destroyer USS Decatur conducted the transit operation near the Paracel Islands. He said it was done “in a routine, lawful manner without ship escorts and without incident”.

China’s Defence Ministry said two Chinese vessels warned the US warship to leave during a patrol. In a statement on its website, it added the Chinese military would increase air and sea patrols in the area.

The Paracels, a group of islands and reefs, are occupied by China but are also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan.

The US Navy has now conducted four so-called freedom-of-navigation operations in the past year in the South China Sea, where China has reclaimed land to assert its claim to disputed features – mostly in the Spratly islands that lie further south.

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China has looked dimly upon the US operations, which it views as meddling in waters where the United States does not have territorial claims.

Friday’s operation comes a day after the leader of the Philippines, one of the six governments with claims in the South China Sea, announced during a visit to Beijing his nation’s “separation” from the US, as it seeks to deepen ties with China.

Ross said the operation was unrelated to any such event.

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