Published: Mon, February 11, 2019

China says US aims to 'stir up trouble' with naval sail-by

China's Foreign Ministry expressed anger on Monday after two U.S. navy ships sailed near islands claimed by Beijing in the disputed South China Sea.

The guided-missile destroyers USS Spruance and USS Preble sailed near the Beijing-claimed Spratly Islands earlier Monday as part of what Washington calls "freedom of navigation operations", Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily press briefing.

The Chinese side immediately conducted verification and identification on the USA ships and warned them to leave, said the spokeswoman. 'The Chinese side expresses strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition'. "China urges the USA to immediately stop such provocative actions and earnestly respect the efforts by regional countries to maintain the peace and stability of the South China Sea".

Beijing and Washington are locked in a trade war and the two sides are trying to hammer out a deal ahead of a March 1 deadline when United States tariffs on US$200 billion (S$271 billion) worth of Chinese imports are scheduled to increase to 25 per cent from 10 per cent.

China has lashed out at the United States in the wake of another "freedom of navigation" exercise conducted by the U.S. Navy in the South China Sea, accusing Washington of undermining "peace" and "security".

She urged the United States to cease the "provocative actions".

Another US warship, USS McCampbell, sailed within 12 nautical miles (22 kilometres) of the Paracel Islands chain - north of the Spratly Islands - on January 7 during a previous round of trade talks between the two countries.

The operation was the US's latest attempt to counter what it sees as China's mission to limit freedom of navigation in the strategic waters where Chinese, Japanese and Southeast Asian navies operated. China has built and militarized artificial islands in the sea in a bid to maintain its control.

Communist superpower China claims ownership over nearly all of the South China Sea - frequently slamming the United States and its allies for naval operations in the territory. China says the construction is necessary for defence, and it was the USA that was responsible for tensions by sending warships and military planes close to islands Beijing claims.

Observers fear the trade dispute is just one element in the deteriorating relationship between the world's two top economies with top White House officials sharply criticising Beijing for everything from human rights abuses to cyber-warfare.

Other regional nations-such as the Philippines and Vietnam-lay claim to part of the waterway and the USA routinely pushes back against China by sending ships to patrol the sea.

The two countries are also at loggerheads over regional security, with the USA offering support to the island nation of Taiwan, which China also claims as its own.

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