US warships sail near disputed South China Sea islands

US warships sail near disputed South China Sea islands
Two US warships sailed near the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea on Sunday. The maneuvers come days after Washington “disinvited” Beijing to the Pacific Rim 2018 naval exercises.

USS ‘Higgins,’ an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, and USS ‘Antietam,’ a Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser, came within 12 nautical miles of the islands, two US officials told Reuters on condition of anonymity. The ships reportedly carried out maneuvers near Tree, Lincoln, Triton and Woody Islands in the Paracels.

China’s Defense Ministry said that its ships and aircraft have warned off the US vessels that entered the country’s territorial waters without permission. The ministry has condemned the arrival of the US warships near the islands, calling it a “provocation” and an infringement upon China’s sovereignty.

Beijing has been building artificial islands and deploying military infrastructure on the Paracels, as well as on the Spratly Islands. This has resulted in protests from other neighboring nations claiming the territory, but also from Washington, which often criticizes China’s “influence in the region” while also trying to expand its own.

The resource-rich South China Sea is the subject of conflicting claims by a number of countries, including China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. The US has been sending its vessels and airplanes to carry out patrol missions in the disputed area, repeatedly causing outcry from Beijing.

This week, the US has also revoked the Chinese navy’s invitation to participate in the RIMPAC 2018 naval drills, citing China’s “continued militarization of the South China Sea.” The US military said that the issue was the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy presence in the Spratly Islands. 

Earlier in May, Beijing carried out drills in the South China Sea which involved Xian H-6 strategic bombers, which were developed on the basis of the Soviet Tupolev Tu-16 aircraft. The drills angered neighboring Philippines, which vowed to protect “every single inch” of its territory in the area. 

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In March this year, USS ‘Mustin,’ an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, reportedly came within 12 nautical miles the Spratly Islands archipelago. The Chinese Defense Ministry confirmed the reports and said that Chinese Navy vessels ‘Huangshan’ and ‘Zhenjiang’ “took immediate action… to warn off and dispel” the US warship. 

In January, USS ‘Hopper,’ a guided missile destroyer, encroached on the Chinese-claimed Huangyan Dao Island in the South China Sea. China accused the US of violating “sovereignty and security interests” as well as posing a “grave threat” to its forces stationed in the area.

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