The United States has sent a destroyer sailing near an island claimed by China in the disputed South China Sea, in a move that could highten Washington-Beijing tensions.
The Saturday operation saw USS Curtis Wilbur guided-missile destroyer sailing within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island, which is part of Paracel Islands, Reuters reported.
“This operation challenged attempts by the three claimants – China, Taiwan, and Vietnam – to restrict navigation rights and freedoms,” said Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis.
Regional countries such as Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei, all have overlapping claims with China over disputed territories in the South China Sea, including the Paracel Islands, Spratly Islands, Pratas Islands and Scarborough Shoal.
China and Vietnam fought a brief but bloody war over Paracel Islands in 1974 and some of the disputes have been taken to the United Nations.
The US has time and again risked heightening tensions with China through military presence in the South China Sea, questioning Beijing’s insistence on sovereignty over the disputed waters.
China has, in response, accused Washington of meddling in the regional issues and deliberately escalating the situation in the waters.
In October 2015, another US Navy destroyer, USS Lassen, conducted a patrol within 12 nautical miles of a Chinese island, drawing a strong rebuke from China.
US Air Force B-52 bombers flew near other Chinese islands in the disputed waters last November.
Washington is, meanwhile, working to offset Beijing’s influence in the Asia-Pacific region by pressing to sign Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, a colossal trade deal furthering its economic cooperation with 11 other countries bordering the Pacific Ocean, including Vietnam, Malaysia, Japan, and Australia.