U.S. Navy Sails Past Contested Islands in South China Sea

The U.S. Navy sailed a warship close to disputed islands in the South China Sea on Sunday, a move that is bound to draw an angry reaction from Beijing, amid heightened US-China tensions over a broad range of issues, CNN informs.

Two U.S. officials said that guided-missile destroyer USS Decatur sailed within 12 nautical miles of Gaven and Johnson reefs in the Spratly Islands as part of what the Navy calls “freedom of navigation operations,” which are meant to enforce the right of free passage in international waters.

“U.S. Forces operate in the Indo-Pacific region on a daily basis, including the South China Sea. All operations are designed in accordance with international law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows,” a defense official told CNN. The official added that freedom of navigation operations “challenge excessive maritime claims and demonstrate our commitment to uphold the rights, freedoms, and uses of the sea and airspace guaranteed to all nations under international law.”

While the Navy conducts such freedom of navigation operations all over the world, China is particularly sensitive about the operations when they come near areas where the Chinese government has built islands and established military facilities on disputed maritime features.

The last such freedom of navigation operation took place in May when the Navy sailed two warships within 12 miles of four of the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. China claims both the Spratly and the Paracel islands, but those claims are rejected by much of the international community, CNN adds.

Washington has long slammed what it calls China’s militarization of these islands, with U.S. officials accusing Beijing of deploying missiles and electronic jamming equipment there. Earlier this week, the U.S. flew B-52 bombers over the South China Sea and East China Sea, areas considered sensitive by the Chinese military.

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