US accused of sabotaging peace and stability in South China Sea

Chinese defence ministry says it sent two destroyers to ‘warn and drive away’ US warship that sailed near island in Spratlys

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 May, 2017, 5:44pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 May, 2017, 6:59pm

Beijing has accused Washington of undermining peace and stability in the South China Sea by sailing a warship close to one of China’s man-made islands in the contested waters.

Ministry of Defence spokesman Ren Guoqiang confirmed on Thursday that the USS Dewey, a guided-missile destroyer, had sailed within 12 nautical miles of the Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands, where China has territorial disputes with its neighbours.

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Ren said two Chinese destroyers, Liuzhou and Luzhou, were sent to “identify and verify” the US ship and then “warned and drove it away”.

It was the first freedom of navigation operation by the United States navy since President Donald Trump took office.

Freedom of navigation operations, which were conducted on a regular basis during previous US administrations, are generally viewed as a direct challenge to Beijing’s expansive maritime claims.

Ren said the US action was aimed at sabotaging the situation in the South China Sea, which has seen signs of improvement over past months, and it was harmful to the peace and stability of the region.

The Chinese foreign ministry also issued a statement condemning the US move, saying such a provocative action “violated China’s sovereignty and security interests”.

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Observers noted that Beijing’s statements appeared to be more moderate than its previous responses, signalling China’s reluctance to exaggerate the impact on bilateral ties, which have show signs of warming since the first summit between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping.