US Navy ship sails again near disputed South China Sea islands
BEIJING (Reuters) – A U.S. Navy destroyer sailed near the disputed Spratly Islands on Saturday, the U.S. Navy said, its second “freedom of navigation” operation in a week in the South China Sea.
On Wednesday, the Chinese military said it “chased” the same ship, the USS Benfold, as it sailed near the disputed Paracel Islands.
The United States regularly conducts what it calls freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea, challenging what it says are restrictions on innocent passage imposed by China and other claimants.
“On July 16, the USS Benfold (DDG 65) asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the South China Sea near the Spratly Islands, consistent with international law,” the U.S. Navy said in a statement.
China says it is not hampering freedom of navigation or overflight, accusing the United States of deliberately causing tensions.
Monday marked the sixth anniversary of a ruling by an international court that struck down China’s sweeping claims to the South China Sea, a channel for around $3 trillion in maritime trade each year.
China never accepted the decision.
China claims almost all of the South China Sea. Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei all have competing claims that often overlap.
China has built artificial islands on some of its possessions in the South China Sea, including airports, raising regional concerns about Beijing’s intentions.
(Reporting by Albee Zhang and Tony Munroe; Editing by Tom Hogue and William Mallard)