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China sends frigate to warn off US destroyer on South China Sea

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A US Navy destroyer sailed near the Paracel Islands claimed by China in the South China Sea on Tuesday, three US officials said, even as President Donald Trump’s administration seeks Chinese cooperation in dealing with North Korea’s missile and nuclear programmes, reported South China Morning Post (Hong Kong).

The operation was the latest attempt to counter what Washington sees as Beijing’s efforts to limit freedom of navigation in the strategic waters. But it was not as provocative as previous ones carried out since Trump took office in January.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Chafee, a guided-missile destroyer, carried out normal manoeuvring 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 neighbours.

Unlike in August, when another 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.

Twelve nautical miles mark internationally recognised territorial limits. Sailing within that range is meant to show the United States does not recognise territorial claims there.
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.

Experts and some US officials have criticised former President Barack Obama for potentially reinforcing China’s claims by sticking to innocent passage, in which a warship effectively recognised a territorial sea by crossing it speedily without stopping.

The US military has a long-standing position that its operations are carried out throughout the world, including in areas claimed by allies, and that they are separate from political considerations.
The United States has said it would like to see more international participation in freedom-of-navigation operations in the South China Sea.

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China sent a guided-missile frigate, two fighter jets and a helicopter to warn off the USS ‘Chafee’ near disputed islands in the South China Sea, accusing the US of damaging the country’s sovereignty and security interests in the region, reported Russia Today.

Beijing condemned the mission of the guided-missile destroyer USS ‘Chafee,’ which on Tuesday sailed within 16 nautical miles of the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, within the framework of a so-called “freedom of navigation” operation.

“In the face of repeated provocation by the US forces, the Chinese military will further strengthen preparation for combat at sea and in the air and improve the defenses to resolutely defend national sovereignty and security interests,” China’s Defense Ministry said in a statement, quoted by the South China Morning Post newspaper.

The guided-missile Type 054A frigate ‘Huangshan,’ two J-11B fighter jets and one Z-8 helicopter were sent to identify the US vessel and make it leave the waters.

The incident with the USS ‘Chafee’ would affect trust between the militaries of the two countries, the ministry stated, adding that further operations of such nature might trigger “unwanted incidents.”

China’s Foreign Ministry has also urged the US to “respect the sovereignty and security” of the country and stop such “erroneous acts.”

“The US destroyer’s behavior violated Chinese law and relevant international law, severely harmed China’s sovereignty and security interests, and threatened the lives of military personnel of both sides,” ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a daily press briefing.

The destroyer, however, did not violate the 12-nautical-mile territorial limits of the islands, according to a Reuters report, citing US military officials. The mission was carried out to challenge “excessive maritime claims” in the region, according to the officials.

US ships have repeatedly sailed past the disputed islets in the South China Sea, triggering an angry reaction from China. Beijing accuses the US of violating its sovereignty, while Washington claims the missions support “freedom of navigation” in the region.

Small uninhabited islets in the resource-rich South China Sea are contested by multiple nations. The Paracel archipelago is claimed by China, Taiwan and Vietnam, while the Spratly Islands are additionally contested by the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.

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