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Ryan Pickrell

The US Navy stared down China in the South China Sea

(US Navy photo)

Two US Navy destroyers challenged China's excessive maritime claims in the South China Sea May 6, 2019, angering Beijing.

The guided-missile destroyers USS Preble and USS Chung-Hoon conducted a freedom-of-navigation operation, sailing within 12 nautical miles of two Chinese-occupied reefs in the Spratly Islands, the US Navy 7th Fleet spokesman Commander Clay Doss told Reuters.

The operation, the third by the US Navy in the South China Sea this year, was specifically intended "to challenge excessive maritime claims and preserve access to the waterways as governed by international law," he said.


Beijing was critical of the operation, condemning it as it has done on previous occasions.

"The relevant moves by the U.S. warships have infringed on China's sovereignty and undermined peace and security in relevant waters. We firmly oppose that," Geng Shuang, a Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, told reporters at a press briefing May 6, 2019.

"China urges the United States to stop these provocative actions," he added.

China bristles at these operations, often accusing the US of violating its sovereignty by failing to request permission from China to enter what it considers Chinese territorial waters. The US does not acknowledge China's claims to the South China Sea, which were discredited by an international tribunal three years ago.

The 7th Fleet said that these operations were designed to "demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows."

The Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy identified and warned off the US Navy vessels. The ships do not appear to have encountered anything like what the USS Decatur ran up against last September, when a Chinese destroyer attempted to force the ship off course, risking a collision.

The US Navy is not only challenging China in the South China Sea, though. It is also ruffling Beijing's feathers by sending warships through the closely watched Taiwan Strait on the regular. The US has conducted four of these transits this year, each time upsetting Beijing.

The latest operation in the South China Sea comes as trade-war tensions are expected to rise in the coming days. US President Donald Trump is said to be preparing to significantly increase trade penalties and tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of Chinese exports in response to Beijing's unwillingness to bend on trade.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.