South China Sea: Chinese military tells US ship 10 times to turn around

Beijing ‘displeased’ after USS McCain sails close to the disputed Spratly Islands in a ‘freedom of navigation’ operation

A US warship has sailed close to an artificial island created by China in the South China Sea as part of a “freedom of navigation” operation.

The USS John S McCain destroyer sailed within six nautical miles of Mischief Reef, part of the disputed Spratly Islands south of the Paracel Islands.

A US official said a Chinese frigate sent radio warnings at least 10 times to the USS McCain.

“They called and said ‘Please turn around, you are in our waters,’” the official said.

“We told them we are a US [ship] conducting routine operations in international waters.”

The official said the interactions were all “safe and professional”, with the operation lasting about six hours from start to finish.

China’s foreign ministry said: “The US destroyer’s actions have violated Chinese and international laws, as well as severely harmed China’s sovereignty and security.

“China is very displeased with this and will bring up the issue with the US side.”

China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, despite partial counter-claims from Taiwan and several south-east Asian nations including the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam.

The freedom of navigation operation – known in the military as a “Fonop” – was bound to annoy Beijing and was the third of its kind carried out by the United States since President Donald Trump took office.

It comes amid soaring tensions on the Korean Peninsula over Kim Jong-un’s missile programme, and as the United States seeks to push China into more assertively restraining North Korea.

Trump this week warned North Korea it faced “fire and fury” if it continued to threaten America.

Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Chris Logan declined to comment on whether there had been a freedom of navigation sailing, but said: “We are continuing regular Fonops, as we have routinely done in the past and will continue to do in the future.

“All operations are conducted in accordance with international law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows.”

Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report

Guardian staff and agencies

The GuardianTramp

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