Beijing slams U.S. 'freedom of navigation' exercises in South China Sea

By Elizabeth Shim  |  Aug. 10, 2017 at 11:45 PM
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Aug. 10 (UPI) -- China scolded the United States after the USS John S. McCain sailed near disputed reefs in the South China Sea on Thursday.

The U.S. exercise, the third of its kind to be held since President Donald Trump assumed office, was condemned as a violation of China's claim to sovereignty, CNN reported.

"China holds indisputable sovereignty over Nansha Islands and surrounding waters," Beijing's defense ministry said. "The Chinese military is firmly opposed to such flaunting of force and promotion of militarization in the region by the U.S., which could easily trigger accidents at sea and in the air."

The U.S. "freedom of navigation" operation has been previously conducted near China's reclaimed islands, called the Spratlys, or Nansha Islands, claimed also by the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan, among others.

According to a U.S. defense official, the U.S. destroyer was planning to sail within 6 nautical miles of Mischief Reef, one of Beijing's man-made islands.

But two Chinese frigates began to follow the McCain, staying about 1,000 yards away but keeping a close watch on the ship.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Thursday the operations are being conducted "in accordance with international law."

"And the point of that is to demonstrate that the United States will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows. It's true in the South China Sea. It's true in other places around the world, as well," Nauert said.

The Guardian reported Friday a U.S. official said the Chinese frigate sent radio warning at least 10 times to the USS McCain.

"They called and said 'Please turn around, you are in our waters,'" the newspaper's source said. "We told them we are a U.S. [ship] conducting routine operations in international waters."

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