A U.S. Navy warship was closely trailed by Chinese navy vessels in the South China Sea during a rare patrol close to where China has been dredging sand to turn submerged reefs and shoals into islands it claims as sovereign territory, according to the Pentagon.
China’s close surveillance this month of the Fort Worth, a new high-tech San Diego-based littoral combat ship, suggested the growing tension over the competing maritime and territorial claims in the region’s resource-rich waters.
The decision to send the Fort Worth near the Spratly Islands for the first time was intended to show Beijing that Washington does not accept that the surrounding seas constitute Chinese territorial waters. Navy officials said they plan to follow up with other patrols.
U.S. military officials, who worry that China is trying to establish de facto control over parts of a strategic international waterway, are formulating new options to present to President Obama. They include sending warships within 12 miles of the reclaimed reefs and rocks to make clear that Washington considers them international waters and is determined to preserve freedom of navigation.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry is expected to press U.S. concerns about the extensive landfill and construction projects, including potential runways and port facilities, when he meets top Chinese officials in Beijing this weekend.