US destroyer sails through disputed South China Sea as trade talks kick off in Beijing

Monday, January 7, 2019
By Paul Martin
7 Jan, 2019

A US Navy vessel, USS ‘McCampbell,’ has sailed past disputed islets of the South China Sea in a ‘freedom of navigation’ operation. In response, Beijing sent military ships and aircraft to warn it off, condemning the “provocation.”

The guided-missile destroyer sailed within 12 nautical miles of the Paracel Islands archipelago, the US Pacific fleet said on Monday. The operation was carried out to “to challenge excessive maritime claims,” according to the fleet’s spokeswoman Rachel McMarr.

The voyage of USS ‘McCampbell’ has triggered an angry reaction from Beijing. China’s Foreign Ministry accused the US of entering the waters of the Paracel Islands without permission, adding that it had lodged “stern representations” with Washington.

“We urge the United States to immediately cease this kind of provocation,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said, adding that China had sent military ships and aircraft to identify and warn off the rogue ship.

The troubled waters of the South China Sea are disputed by several nations of the region, namely Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, China and Taiwan – which Beijing sees as an integral part of the mainland.

China claims sovereignty over almost of all the waters, which are frequently visited by US military vessels. Washington insists that it has been exercising its “freedom of navigation” right.

The incident coincided with the start of high-level talks on trade between the US and China, which kicked off on Monday in Beijing. The negotiations, led by the deputy trade ministers of the two countries, are expected to go on for two days.

The talks have become the very first official contact on trade rivalry since early December, when US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping agreed to try and settle differences during the G20 summit in Argentina. Back then, the two leaders announced a 90-day truce on new tariffs, which is set to expire on March 1. The trade war between Washington and Beijing has been going on for nearly a year already, with the two countries slapping tariffs on $300 billion worth of each other’s goods.

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