United States sends warships near disputed island in South China Sea

United States sends warships near disputed island in South China Sea

While this operation had been planned months in advance, and similar operations have become routine, it comes at a particularly sensitive time and just days after the Pentagon uninvited China from a major US -hosted naval drill.

USS 'Higgins, ' an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, and USS 'Antietam, ' a Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser, came within 12 nautical miles of the islands, two United States officials told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

The U.S. vessels' maneuvering operations were carried out near the islands of Tree, Lincoln, Triton and Woody, the report said.

The Rim of the Pacific exercise, known as RIMPAC and previously attended by China, was billed as the world's largest worldwide maritime exercise and held every two years in Hawaii in June and July.

"We conduct routine and regular Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs), as we have done in the past and will continue to do in the future", a representative of the US Pacific Fleet said. Beijing has been redeploying significant military forces to the region, including bombers, surface-to-air and anti-ship cruise missiles.

Chinese defence chiefs have said USA warships entered the waters and did not leave when warned by Beijing's warships and aircraft.

China's island-building programme in the South China Sea has sparked concern around the region and in Washington about Chinese intentions.

Defence minstry chiefs said the incident is a "serious infringment" on Chinese sovereignty.

In a separate statement, China's Foreign Ministry urged the United States to stop such actions.

China now asserts its right to the islands.

The resource-rich South China Sea is the subject of conflicting claims by a number of countries, including China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. China claims that all its military forces in the South China Sea are purely defensive.

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