Beijing (AFP) – China on Thursday accused the United States of trespassing after a US warship sailed near a reef claimed by Beijing in the South China Sea, the first such operation by President Donald Trump’s administration in the disputed waterway.
The row comes during a period of warming relations between the countries, with Trump saying that Washington has dialed down pressure on Beijing over other issues in hopes of securing their cooperation on North Korea.
The guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey entered the area “without permission from the Chinese government”, Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters at a regular press briefing, adding that the ship had “trespassed in the waters near the relevant islands and reefs.”
“The relevant action taken by the US vessel undermines China’s sovereignty and security interests, and is very likely to cause unexpected sea and air accidents,” he said, urging Washington to stop “provocative actions.”
The USS Dewey sailed less than 12 nautical miles from Mischief Reef — part of the Spratly Islands — on Thursday morning local time, a US official said earlier, the first freedom of navigation operation under Trump. The United Nations says that nations can establish the breadth of their territorial sea up to a limit of 12 nautical miles.
China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, despite partial counter-claims from Taiwan and several southeast Asian nations including the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam.
It has rapidly built reefs into artificial islands capable of hosting military planes.
The United States has challenged annexations of these islets and advocated for a diplomatic settlement to the disputes.
US Navy chief Admiral John Richardson sought to downplay the significance of the sailing, noting that the United States has routinely conducted freedom of navigation operations the world over since 1979, to contest “excessive maritime claims” and show that “rules matter.”
When asked about the latest operation,…