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US Ship Challenges Chinese Claims in South China Sea

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A United States Navy ship has sailed near a Chinese-controlled coral reef in the South China Sea.

The move was the first U.S. test to China’s territorial claims in the waterway since President Donald Trump took office.

The guided missile destroyer USS Dewey came within 22 kilometers, or 12 nautical miles, of Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands. China claims Mischief and other reefs in the South China Sea as part of its territory.

The United Nations defines territorial waters as extending up to 12 nautical miles from a state's coastline.

Chinese officials have sent workers to expand and develop the coral reefs. Satellite images suggest China has set up military bases and sent weapons to some of the new, man-made islands.

Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, May 21, 2015. Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, May 21, 2015.

The United States and other nations have criticized China for its island-building activities in the area. The disputed waterway is one of the world’s busiest shipping routes.

Other countries with territorial claims in the South China Sea are the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.

The U.S. military has carried out freedom of navigation operations in the area. They are designed to show military force and demonstrate support for free movement of shipping in international waters.​

U.S. forces completed at least four freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea in recent years. The last one took place in October 2016.

A U.S. Defense Department spokesman said in a statement the latest action was a continuation of the operations. U.S. forces would keep operating in the South China Sea to “fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows,” the statement said.

China’s Foreign Ministry protested the naval operation. A foreign ministry official told reporters the U.S. destroyer had 'trespassed' near islands over which China has 'indisputable sovereignty.' He added that such patrols were 'very likely to cause unexpected sea and air accidents.'

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey prepares for a replenishment-at-sea in the South China Sea. The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey prepares for a replenishment-at-sea in the South China Sea.

'We urge the U.S. to correct this mistake and stop taking further actions so as to avoid hurting peace and security in the region and long-term cooperation between the two countries,' the official said.

Earlier this month, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators urged President Trump to restart freedom of navigation operations. The senators described the South China Sea as critical to U.S. national security interests and to peace in the Asia-Pacific area.

The appeal came after a meeting in the United States between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping. The U.S. president said the meeting helped them to develop friendly relations. The Trump administration has said it is seeking China’s help in dealing with the North Korean nuclear threat.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from VOA News, the Associated Press and Reuters. George Grow was the editor.

We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments section, and visit our Facebook page.

Words in This Story

trespass – v. enter someone else’s land without permission

indisputable adj. impossible to question or doubt

sovereigntyn. power of a country to control its own government

bipartisan adj. supported by members of both political parties, Democrat and Republican

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