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USS Mustin Conducts "Freedom of Navigation" Operation in South China Sea
25 March 2018, 12:59 | Simon Arnold
US Navy Destroyer Sails In South China Sea Amid Chinese Combat Drills
While Beijing will safeguard the freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea as stipulated by worldwide law, it "resolutely opposes any illegal provocation in the name of 'freedom of navigation, '" he said.
It said two Chinese Navy ships "took immediate action to identify and verify the U.S. ship, and warned and dispelled it".
Bristling with Tomahawk missiles, the destroyer sailed past Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands while carrying out a "freedom of navigation" mission.
"This is a serious political and military provocation to China and the Chinese military is firmly objecting to this", said Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang. Nicole Schwegman, US Pacific Fleet spokeswoman, said. The Hopper's passage "violated China's sovereignty and security interests" and put the safety of Chinese vessels and personnel at risk, a ministry statement said.
China dispatched military vessels to the area and warned the U.S. ship to leave.
Friday's operation was the latest attempt to counter what Washington sees as Beijing's efforts to limit freedom of navigation in the strategic waters.
The US has been criticizing China for constructing islands and military installations and limiting the free movement in the global trade route.
The Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang warned that continued US patrols in the waterway "harm military relations between the two countries, causing close encounters between the countries' air forces and navies, which could lead to misjudgment and even accidents".
In a separate statement, China's Foreign Ministry said the country would continue to take all necessary steps to protect its sovereignty and peace and stability in the South China Sea, where it said the situation was developing for the better with the hard work of China and Southeast Asian nations.
"This is a routine annual planned arrangement for the navy, the aim of which is to test and improve the military's training level and to fully raise the ability to win".
China's claims in the South China Sea, through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes each year, are contested by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
The South China Morning Post, an English-language newspaper in Hong Kong, cited Ni Lexiong (倪樂雄), a Shanghai-based military expert, as saying the USA was deliberately trying to put pressure on China with the warship as trade tensions between the two escalate.
In January, a United States destroyer carried out FONOP and came within 12 nautical miles of Scarborough Shoal.
The exercises would be the first such operations by the navy in the South China Sea this year, the paper said.
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