Wednesday, 16 October, 2019

USA sends warships near disputed island in South China Sea

USA sends warships near disputed island in South China Sea USA sends warships near disputed island in South China Sea
Patty Aguilar | 28 May, 2018, 15:14

Called "Xisha" in Chinese, the islands have been incorporated into the southern province of Hainan and are being developed for tourism, as well as being equipped with weapon systems meant to enforce China's claim to virtually the entire South China Sea.

China's defence ministry has protested against what it called "provocation" after USA warships sailed near South China Sea islands claimed by Beijing.

While this operation had been planned months in advance, and similar operations have become routine, it comes at a particularly sensitive time and just days after the Pentagon uninvited China from a major US -hosted naval drill.

The Higgins - a guided-missile destroyer - and the Antietam - a guided-missile cruiser - were sent as part of what has been seen as an attempt by Washington to counter efforts by Beijing to limit freedom of navigation in its waters.

The two ships passed within 12 miles of four islands - Tree, Lincoln, Triton and Woody - according to a USA defence official.

The move prompted immediate criticism from the USA, which last week pulled its invitation to China to join maritime exercises in the Pacific because of Beijing's "continued militarisation" of the South China Sea.

China earlier this month landed bomber aircraft capable of carrying nuclear weapons on its main base at Woody Island in the Paracels.

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For years, the United States military has insisted that its operations are carried out throughout the world, including in areas claimed by their allies, and that they are separate from political considerations.

China has been deploying serious military power to the region - including constructing manmade islands bristling with missiles.

The US military did not immediately comment on the operation, but said US forces operate in the region on a daily basis, Reuters said.

It was the latter act that caused Defense Secretary James Mattis to withdraw China's invitation to the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercises.

China has urged Washington not to "hype up the so-called militarisation of the South China Sea".

Chinese officials have accused Washington of viewing their country in suspicious, "Cold War" terms.

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