Published: Thu, May 25, 2017
Worldwide | By Sean Reid

US warship sails within 12 miles of China-claimed reef

A U.S. Navy destroyer sailed near a disputed South China Sea island controlled by China, the first such operation since Donald Trump became president, according to a CNN report.

According to unnamed sources cited by U.S. media, the USS Dewey passed within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef.

Under the previous administration, the U.S. Navy conducted such voyages through the South China Sea.

China has been causing alarm in the region by building up South China Sea reefs and islets into artificial islands and installing some military positions. "We operate in accordance with worldwide law".

Pentagon spokesman Maj. Jamie Davis declined to confirm the operation, saying in a written statement that operational summaries will be released publicly in a report "and not sooner". In 2016 the United States conducted challenged the excessive maritime claims of 22 countries including allies and partners.

The freedom of navigation operation comes a month after a top United States navy commander in the Asia Pacific region, Admiral Harry Harris, said without offering details that Washington would soon sail in the disputed region.

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This story will be updated.

China's claims to the South China Sea, which sees about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade pass every year, are challenged by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam, as well as Taiwan.

In conducting the freedom of navigation patrol, President Trump is likely to anger China at a time when the seeking increased cooperation with the country to help rein in North Korea.

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

"We have a comprehensive Freedom of Navigation Operations program that seeks to challenge excessive maritime claims in order to preserve the rights, freedoms, and uses of the sea and airspace guaranteed to all nations under worldwide law", the Defense Department statement said. The last one was implemented under the administration of former President Barack Obama near the Paracel Islands, which are claimed by China, Taiwan and Vietnam.

China says both the Paracels and the Spratlys are an "integral part" of its territory, offering up maps that date back to the early 20th century.

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