WASHINGTON • A US Navy destroyer sailed near islands claimed by China in the South China Sea, three US officials said, even as President Donald Trump's administration seeks Chinese cooperation in dealing with North Korea's missile and nuclear programmes.
Tuesday's naval operation was the latest attempt by Washington to counter what it 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 President Trump took office in January.
The officials 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.
Next month, Mr Trump makes his first visit to Asia as President, including a stop in China, which he has been pressuring to do more to rein in North Korea. China is North Korea's neighbour and biggest trading partner.
Unlike in August, when a US Navy destroyer came within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island built by Beijing in the South China Sea, officials said the destroyer on Tuesday sailed close to but not within that range of the islands. The Pentagon did not comment directly on the operation, but said the US carried out regular freedom-of-navigation operations and would continue to do so.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said at a daily news briefing in Beijing yesterday that it has lodged stern representations with the United States over the incident, adding that China urges the US to respect its territory.
In the past, China has also objected to such US operations, saying they harmed Chinese sovereignty and security.