The U.S. guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem sailed near a disputed island in the South China Sea claimed by China, Taiwan and Vietnam on Sunday.
The freedom-of-navigation operation was designed to challenge the competing claims of all three nations, a U.S. Defense Department official said. The vessel sailed within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island, part of the Paracel Islands.
The operation was first reported by Fox News and comes days after the U.S. invoked sanctions against Chinese entities doing business with North Korea. The U.S. has also approved a new arms deal with Taiwan, a move likely to anger China.
China continues to build up infrastructure on three islands in the Spratly chain, Fiery Cross, Mischief and Subi reefs. The Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative says China has recently expanded its facilities on Triton Island to include the construction of a helipad.
Sunday’s move was the second freedom-of-navigation operation conducted during Donald Trump’s presidency. The destroyer USS Dewey sailed within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef in May.
Trump is due to speak with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sunday, ahead of meetings that he will hold with both leaders on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Germany later in the week.By MarEx