Two US Navy warships have sailed near South China Sea islands claimed by China, two US officials say, in a move likely to anger Beijing as President Donald Trump seeks its continued cooperation on North Korea.
The operation was the latest attempt to counter what Washington sees as Beijing’s efforts to limit freedom of navigation in the strategic waters.
While this operation had been planned months in advance, and similar operations have become routine, it comes at a particularly sensitive time and just days after the Pentagon uninvited China from a major US-hosted naval drill.
The US officials, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the Higgins guided-missile destroyer and the Antietam, a guided-missile cruiser, came within 12 nautical miles of the Paracel Islands, among a string of islets, reefs and shoals over which China has territorial disputes with its neighbours.
The US military vessels carried out manoeuvring operations near Tree, Lincoln, Triton and Woody islands in the Paracels, one of the officials said.
Mr Trump’s cancellation of a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has put further strain on US-China ties amid a trade dispute between the world’s two largest economies.