Beijing: China is protesting the sailing of a US Navy ship near its territorial claims in the South China Sea, saying it will continue to take measures to protect Beijing's interests in the vital waterway claimed by several nations.
A US official said the destroyer USS Chafee sailed near the Paracel Islands on Tuesday, coming within 16 nautical miles (30 kilometers) of land.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying on Wednesday denounced the mission as dangerous and a violation of China's sovereignty. She said the military verified the presence of the US ship by sea and air and warned it off.
China claims the South China Sea and its islands virtually in their entirety. The US Navy regularly sails through the area to assert freedom of navigation.
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Chafee, a guided-missile destroyer, carried out normal maneuvering operations that challenged “excessive maritime claims” near the Paracel Islands, among a string of islets, reefs and shoals over which China has territorial disputes with its neighbors.
“China immediately sent naval vessels and military jets to investigate and identify, as well as warn to the vessel and ask it to leave,” Hua said in a daily news briefing.
Next month, Trump makes his first visit to Asia as president, including a stop in China, which he has been pressuring to do more to rein in North Korea. China is North Korea’s neighbor and biggest trading partner.
Unlike in August, when a US Navy destroyer came within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island built up by China in the South China Sea, officials said the destroyer on Tuesday sailed close to but not within that range of the islands.
The Pentagon did not comment directly on the operation, but said the United States carried out regular freedom-of-navigation operations and would continue to do so.
China’s claims in the South China Sea, through which about $5 trillion in shipborne trade passes each year, are contested by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.