US destroyer sails in disputed South China Sea to ‘challenge excessive’ claims by China

For the second time this month, the U.S. destroyer Preble sailed near islands claimed by China in the disputed South China Sea while the two countries engage in a trade fight.

The operation was carried out on Sunday, Reuters reported, citing a commander for the Seventh Fleet. Preble sailed 12 nautical miles off Scarborough Reef “in order to challenge excessive maritime claims and preserve access to the waterways,” the commander said.

The most recent round of trade talks between the Trump administration and China broke up earlier this month without an agreement after Trump accused China of backing out on agreed-to parts of a deal and hiked tariffs on $200 billion of imports from China.

China imposed retaliatory tariff hikes on $60 billion of American goods, and in the U.S. the price of soybeans fell to a 10-year low on fears of a protracted trade war. U.S. officials then listed $300 billion more of Chinese goods for possible tariff hikes.

The passage coincided with naval drills performed by India and Singapore, according to local media accounts. Those drills are expected to last until May 22. The U.S. has frequently criticized China for what it regards as the country’s militarization of the South China Sea, while China, in turn, has regarded the U.S.’ conduct in the region as a provocation.

Fox News' Bradford Betz and the Associated Press contributed to this report