The Chinese navy “warned” a US warship to leave waters near a reef in the South China Sea, Beijing said, after the US carried out its first ‘freedom of navigation’ patrol in the disputed region under Donald Trump’s administration.
The USS Dewey sailed close to Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands, one of a string of islets, shoals and reefs that China claims in the resource rich and strategically important waters, US officials said.
The patrol provoked an angry response from China, which observers say is developing its military capabilities in the region by fortifying and building infrastructure on the tiny land formations.
China’s Defense Ministry said it had made representations with US officials over the matter.
Meanwhile, a foreign ministry spokesman in Beijing said the patrol “undermines China’s sovereignty and security interests”.
“We urge the US to correct this mistake,” spokesman Lu Kang told a regular press briefing.
The Chinese navy identified the US warship, which had “trespassed in the waters near relevant islands and reefs, he said, “and warned it to leave.”
China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, despite partial counter-claims from Taiwan and several southeast Asian nations including the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam.
It has rapidly built reefs into artificial islands capable of hosting military planes.