FILE PHOTO: An aerial view of the uninhabited island of Spratlys in the disputed South China Sea, April 21, 2017. REUTERS / Erik De Castro
(Reuters) – A U.S. Navy warship sailed to islands claimed by China in the South China Sea on Wednesday in a freedom of navigation operation, marking Washington’s latest move to challenge the claims territorial waters of Beijing in disputed waters.
The U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet has said the destroyer USS Russell asserts the rights and freedoms of navigation in the Spratly Islands, in accordance with international law.
China claims sovereignty over the entire archipelago, but Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have also filed competing claims for some or all of the islands.
China’s extensive land claims in resource-rich waters have become a hot issue in an increasingly trying Sino-U.S. Relationship. The two countries are at odds over trade, the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and accusations of human rights violations against Uyghur Muslims.
Washington has denounced what it called Beijing’s attempts to intimidate its neighbors with competing interests. China has repeatedly denounced what it called US efforts to stir up unrest in the region and interfere in what it sees as its internal affairs.
The passage of US ships through the Spratly Islands follows a joint exercise by two US carrier groups in the South China Sea and another warship sailing near the Chinese-controlled Paracel Islands earlier this month. Those actions had suggested that the Biden administration was not on the verge of scaling back operations challenging Beijing’s claims after the ramp-up seen under the Trump administration.
Reporting by Se Young Lee in Washington; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore
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