US warship sails near islands Beijing claims

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USS Chafee. USN/Angel G. Hilbrands

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A US Navy destroyer sailed near islands claimed by China in the South China Sea on Tuesday, three US officials said, prompting anger in Beijing, even as President Donald Trump’s administration seeks Chinese cooperation in reining in North Korea’s missile and nuclear programmes.

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 Mr 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 Paracels, among a string of islets, reefs and shoals over which China has territorial disputes with its neighbours.

China’s defence ministry said yesterday that a warship, two fighter jets and a helicopter had scrambled to warn the US ship away, adding it had infringed upon China’s sovereignty and security with its “provocation”.

China would further strengthen its naval and air defences, the ministry said.

“We demand the US side earnestly take steps to correct its mistakes,” it added.

Speaking earlier, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China had lodged “stern representations” with the US, and reiterated the Paracels were Chinese territory.

“China will continue to take resolute measures to protect Chinese sovereign territory and maritime interests. China urges the US to conscientiously respect China’s sovereign territory and security interests, conscientiously respect the efforts regional countries have made to protect peace and stability in the South China Sea, and stop these wrong actions.”

Next month, Mr Trump makes his first visit to Asia as president.

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