A powerful U.S. warship sailed this week within 12 nautical miles (14 miles) of a Chinese military base on a contested island in the South China Sea, leading Chinese ships to warn it to leave the area.
“This behavior by the United States military is a show of force to promote the militarization in the region, and would very easily lead to accidents on the sea and in the air,” Senior Colonel Ren Guoqiang, a spokesman for China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA), told the media.
The Chinese are upset because the U.S. ship, the USS Dewey, was close to their base on Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, The New York Times reported. Both China and the Philippines — a key US ally — claim the Spratly chain, although the PLA has been building bases there in defiance of international law.
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The Dewey is an Arleigh Burke class-guided missile destroyer that carries Harpoon airship missiles, cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, five-inch guns and torpedoes. The Chinese have built runways and stationed troops on the artificial island.
During last year’s presidential campaign, President Trump was critical of the installation on Mischief Reef, even calling it a “military fortress.”
During Wednesday’s operation, the Dewey stayed in international waters and conducted a man overboard drill. The operation apparently was held to keep the Chinese from taking control of sea lanes in the area.
“All operations are conducted in accordance with international law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows,” Major Jamie Davis, a spokesman for the Pentagon, told The Times. “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 international law.”
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