A US Navy warship has carried out a provocative operation on Thursday, coming within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island built up by China in the South China Sea.
US officials, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the USS John S. McCain traveled close to Mischief Reef in the Nanwei Islands (Spratly), among a string of islets, reefs and shoals in an operation which Washington claims is within the framework of what it calls "freedom of navigation operation".
It was the third "freedom of navigation operation" or "fonop" conducted during Trump's presidency. Neither China's defense ministry nor its foreign ministry immediately responded to a request for comment. China has territorial disputes with its neighbors over the area.
China has reiterated that it firmly opposes any individual country using freedom of navigation and overflight as an excuse to harm its sovereignty and security.
China respects freedom of navigation and overflight in the East China Sea and South China Sea in accordance with international law.
China opposes any individual country using the banner of freedom of navigation and overflight to flaunt military force and harm China's sovereignty and security," China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said last month. Chinese officials have not commented on the latest incident.
Beijing insists that South China Sea islands are an integral part of China's territory adding that it retains the right to build facilities, including those for necessary defense purposes, on its own territory.
The latest provocative operation by US naval forces came as President Donald Trump's administration seeks Chinese cooperation in dealing with North Korea's nuclear program and could complicate efforts to secure a common stance.