A U.S. Navy warship sailed within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island built up by China in the South China Sea, U.S. officials said on Wednesday, the first such challenge to Beijing in the strategic waterway since U.S. President Donald Trump took office.
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the USS Dewey traveled close to the Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands, among a string of islets, reefs and shoals over which China has territorial disputes with its neighbors.
The so-called freedom of navigation operation, which is sure to anger China, comes as Trump is seeking Beijing’s cooperation to rein in ally North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.
Territorial waters are generally defined by U.N. convention as extending at most 12 nautical miles from a state’s coastline.
One U.S. official said it was the first operation near a land feature which was included in a ruling last year against China by an international arbitration court in The Hague. The court invalidated China’s claim to sovereignty over large swathes of the South China Sea.
The U.S. patrol, the first of its kind since October, marked the latest attempt to counter what Washington sees as Beijing’s efforts to limit freedom of navigation in the strategic waters.
Last month, top U.S. commander in the Asia-Pacific region, Admiral Harry Harris, said the United States would likely carry out freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea soon, without offering any details.
The Pentagon said in a statement it was continuing regular freedom of navigation operations and would do more in the future but gave no details of the latest mission.
“We operate in the Asia-Pacific region on a daily basis, including in the South China Sea. We operate in accordance with international law,” Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said in the statement.
Under the previous administration, the U.S. Navy conducted several such voyages through the South China Sea. The last operation was approved by then-President Barack Obama.
Full article: In first under Trump, U.S. warship challenges Beijing’s claims in South China Sea (Reuters)