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US sails warship near disputed islands in South China Sea

This file photo, taken on October 21, 2016,, shows the guided-missile destroyer USS Decatur operating in the South China Sea as part of the Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG). (By AFP)

The United States Navy has sailed a warship within 12 nautical miles of two disputed islands in the South China Sea that China claims sovereignty over.

A spokesperson for the US 7th Fleet, Reann Mommsen, said in a statement on Wednesday that the guided-missile destroyer USS Wayne E. Meyer had sailed within 12 nautical miles of Yongshu Reef and Meiji Reef “in order to challenge excessive maritime claims and preserve access to the waterways as governed by international law.”

Following the operation, spokesman for the People’s Liberation Army Southern Theater Command Li Huamin said the US was engaged in “navigational bullying that... severely harms peace and stability in the South China Sea.”

China’s state-run paper The Global Times also quoted Chinese analysts as saying that Washington was intent on ramping up tensions.

“As the US continues to send warships into the South China Sea, Washington has become the main villain” in the region, Zhang Junshe, a senior research fellow at the People’s Liberation Army Naval Military Studies Research Institute, was quoted as saying.

The Global Times report followed strong language by Washington earlier in the week on Chinese actions in the South China Sea. On Monday, the Pentagon issued a statement saying that China had “resumed its coercive interference in Vietnam’s longstanding oil and gas activities in the South China Sea.”

Separately on Wednesday, China also reportedly denied a US navy warship entry to its port city of Qingdao. Earlier this month, Beijing had denied two US Navy ships entry to Hong Kong.

Previously, US warships had docked at Chinese ports for visits.

Beijing has long been engaged in a dispute with Washington in the East and South China Seas, over parts of which China and other regional countries claim sovereignty. The US, an extra-regional power, regularly dispatches its warships and warplanes to the waters as part of patrols it calls “freedom of navigation” and without seeking an authorization from Beijing.

China has constantly warned the US against its military activities in the sea. Beijing has also urged Washington on numerous occasions to stop meddling in China’s territorial disputes with its neighbors.

The two sides are also locked in a trade war initiated by the administration of US President Donald Trump.

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