US warship near S. China Sea island 'serious provocation', says Beijing

Agence France Presse

Posted at Jul 03 2017 08:46 AM

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem transits waters east of the Korean peninsula during a photo exercise including the United States Navy and the Republic of Korea Navy during Operation Foal Eagle March 22, 2017. Picture taken March 22, 2017. U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kurtis A. Hatcher/Handout via Reuters

BEIJING - China denounced a US warship sailing close to a disputed island in the South China Sea occupied by Beijing as a "serious political and military provocation", a move that could further strain relations between the superpowers.

Beijing dispatched military vessels and fighter planes in response to warn off the US vessel, foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said in a statement late Sunday night, state news agency Xinhua reported.

The USS Stethem destroyer passed less than 12 nautical miles (22 kilometres) from tiny Triton Island in the Paracel Islands archipelago, which is also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam, a US official told AFP.

The operation, meant to demonstrate freedom of navigation in disputed waters, came just hours before a previously scheduled phone call between President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.

"The Chinese side strongly urges the US side to immediately stop such kind of provocative operations that violate China's sovereignty and threaten China's security," the Chinese spokesman said, adding that Beijing would continue to take all necessary means to defend national sovereignty and security, according to Xinhua.

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