US warship sails past disputed islands in S. China Sea

BEIJING • A United States Navy warship sailed by islands claimed by China in the South China Sea yesterday in a freedom of navigation operation, marking the latest move by Washington to challenge Beijing's territorial claims in the contested waters.

The US Navy's 7th Fleet said destroyer USS Russell "asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the Spratly Islands, consistent with international law".

China claims sovereignty over the entire archipelago, but Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have lodged competing claims for some or all of the islands.

China's extensive territorial claims in the resource-rich waters have become a hot button issue in an increasingly testy Sino-US relationship.

The two countries are at odds over trade, the origins of the coronavirus, Hong Kong, Taiwan and accusations of human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims.

Washington has denounced what it calls Beijing's attempts to bully neighbours with competing interests.

China has repeatedly denounced what it calls US efforts to foment unrest in the region and interfere in what it regards as its internal affairs.

The US warship's action follows a joint exercise by two US carrier groups in the South China Sea and another warship sailing near Chinese-controlled Paracel Islands earlier this month.

Those actions suggested that the Biden administration was not about to scale back operations challenging Beijing's claims after the ramp-up seen during the Trump administration.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 18, 2021, with the headline 'US warship sails past disputed islands in S. China Sea'. Subscribe