US Navy ship sails near disputed islands in South China Sea

A U.S. guided-missile destroyer on Monday sailed within 12 nautical miles of disputed islands in the South China Sea “to challenge excessive maritime claims,” a Pacific Fleet spokeswoman told Reuters.

The USS McCampbell’s route near the Parcel Island chain, was part of a “freedom of navigation” operation and not about any one country making a political statement, the spokeswoman insisted.

The move comes amid the first round of trade talks between the U.S. and China since both countries agreed to a 90-day ceasefire in the on-going trade war that saw both sides slapping tariffs on each other’s imports.

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Tensions have remained high in the South China Sea, with China claiming nearly off the strategic waters, despite competing claims by Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Taiwan.

The US has repeatedly criticized Beijing for building up military bases on artificial islands and reefs, while China, in turn, has derided the US’ “freedom of navigation” operations as a provocation, and has justified their militarization of the region as self-defense.