US Navy sends warship near disputed South China Sea island

US Navy sends warship near disputed South China Sea island

by Elizabeth Dexheimer

The U.S. has sent a guided-missile destroyer near Triton Island in the South China Sea, according to a U.S. official, which may cause concern ahead of President Donald Trump's meeting with his Chinese counterpart this week.

The U.S. Navy sent the destroyer USS Stethem within 12 nautical miles (22 kilometers) of Triton Island on Sunday, said the official, who wasn't authorized to speak publicly. The warship was passing through those waters on the basis of innocent passage, the official said.

China, Taiwan and Vietnam all lay claim to Triton, a tiny speck that's one of the Paracel Islands in the waters between Vietnam and the Philippines. Operations such as this are typically planned at least weeks in advance, the official said.

Still, the sea patrol move could signal that the U.S. is displeased with China based on the extent of its efforts to pressure North Korea to curb its missile and nuclear programs. The White House has made several moves in recent weeks, including announcing economic sanctions against Chinese companies with ties to North Korea.

China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs termed the operation "trespassing" and said Beijing had dispatched military vessels and planes in response. China is "dissatisfied with and opposed to the relevant behavior of the U.S. side," Lu Kang, a spokesperson for the foreign ministry, said in a statement on the government's website.

"The Chinese side strongly urges the U.S. side to immediately stop such kind of provocative operations that violate China's sovereignty and threaten China's security," Kang said in the statement. "The Chinese side will continue to take all necessary means to defend national sovereignty and security."

Trump is scheduled to meet with China's Xi Jinping at a summit of world leaders in Hamburg, Germany, that starts on July 7. He's also expected to have a call with the Chinese president on Sunday night.

Appearing on Friday with new South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Trump said "the era of strategic patience with the North Korean regime has failed." In a Twitter message on June 20, Trump said that while he appreciated the efforts of Xi and China to help out with North Korea, "it has not worked out."

A spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Fleet declined to comment on any specific operations but said that all U.S. operations are conducted in accordance with international law, including those in the South China Sea.

The Wall Street Journal earlier reported the warship's movements.

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