U.S. warships sail near South China Sea islands claimed by Beijing

U.S. warships sail near South China Sea islands claimed by Beijing

The Chinese defence ministry has slammed the United States for an act of "provocation" by sending two warships to sail past islands in the South China Sea.

The Higgins guided-missile destroyer and the Antietam guided-missile cruiser came within 12 nautical miles of the Paracel Islands, according to an American official who only spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Several US officials who declined to be named said the two US warships came within 12 nautical miles of the Paracel Islands, maneuvering near Tree, Lincoln, Triton and Woody islands in the operations.

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

The foreign ministry issued a statement expressing "resolute opposition" to the USA sail-by of the territory in the disputed Paracel Island chain on Sunday.

Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano provided on Monday more details of what President Rodrigo Duterte's administration has been doing to defend the country's sovereignty in the disputed region amid criticism that it has been far too soft on China.

"US forces operate in the Asia-Pacific region on a daily basis, including in the South China Sea", Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Logan said. The island has hosted multi-role fighters, surface-to-air missiles, and anti-ship cruise missiles.

China's claims in the South China Sea, through which about $5 trillion in shipborne trade passes each year, are contested by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

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

It also follows the United States' decision to disinvite the Chinese People's Liberation Army-Navy from the 2018 iteration of the Rim of the Pacific exercise.

Chinese officials have accused Washington of viewing their country in suspicious, "Cold War" terms.

Trump also escalated tensions with North Korea after he called off a planned nuclear disarmament summit with Kim Jong Un after the communist leader insulted VP Mike Pence.

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