The USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) is pictured as it enters the port in Da Nang, Vietnam. File/Reuters
A US Navy warship sailed by islands claimed by China in the South China Sea on Wednesday 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 archipeligo, 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 COVID-19 pandemic, Hong Kong, Taiwan and accusations of human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims.
Washington has denounced what it called Beijing’s attempts to bully neighbours with competing interests. China has repeatedly denounced what it called US efforts to foment unrest in the region and interfere in what it regards as its internal affairs.
The US ship’s pass by the Spratly Islands follows a joint exercise by two US carrier groups in South China Sea and another warship sailing near Chinese-controlled Paracel islands earlier this month. Those actions had 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.
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Freedom of navigation should not be used to infringe upon the rights of other countries, China’s navy chief Shen Jinlong said on Wednesday, taking a dig at the United States and its allies who have sailed close to disputed South China Sea islets.
“The United States frequently sends aircraft and vessels into the South China Sea to flex its muscles,” the foreign ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, told reporters, responding to the US mission.
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