Exclusive: U.S. destroyer challenges
China's claims in South China Sea
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[August 10, 2017]
By Idrees Ali
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. Navy
destroyer carried out a "freedom of navigation operation" on Thursday,
coming within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island built up by
China in the South China Sea, U.S. officials told Reuters.
The operation came as President Donald Trump's administration seeks
Chinese cooperation in dealing with North Korea's missile and nuclear
programs and could complicate efforts to secure a common stance.
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the USS John S.
McCain traveled close to Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands, among a
string of islets, reefs and shoals. China has territorial disputes with
its neighbors over the area.
It was the third "freedom of navigation operation" or "fonop" conducted
during Trump's presidency. Neither China's defense ministry nor its
foreign ministry immediately responded to a request for comment.
The operation was the latest attempt to counter what Washington sees as
Beijing's efforts to limit freedom of navigation in the strategic
waters, and comes as Trump is seeking China's cooperation to rein in
Tensions have risen recently after North Korea carried out two nuclear
tests last year and two ICBM tests last month, prompting a strong round
of U.N. sanctions which angered Pyongyang who threatened to teach the
United States a "severe lesson".
Trump in turn responded by warning North Korea it would face "fire and
fury" if it further threatened the United States.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis issued a stark warning to North Korea
on Wednesday, telling Pyongyang that it should stop any actions that
would lead to the "end of its regime and the destruction of its people."
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The guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain approaches the
aircraft carrier USS George Washington for a fueling at sea in this
December 5, 2010 handout photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy.
REUTERS/U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Cheng S.
The United States has criticized China's construction of islands and
build-up of military facilities in the sea, and is concerned they
could be used to restrict free nautical movement.
The U.S. military has a long-standing position that its operations
are carried out throughout the world, including in areas claimed by
allies, and they are separate from political considerations.
The Trump administration has vowed to conduct more robust South
China Sea operations.
In July, a U.S. warship sailed near a disputed island in the South
China Sea claimed by China, Taiwan, Vietnam.
Experts and officials have criticized President Barack Obama for
potentially reinforcing China's claims by sticking to innocent
passage, in which a warship effectively recognized a territorial sea
by crossing it speedily without stopping.
China's claims in the South China Sea, through which about $5
trillion in ship-borne trade passes each year are contested by
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by
Clarence Fernandez and Matthew Mpoke Bigg)
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