WASHINGTON: A US defence official said, in a challenge to China’s territorial claims in the area. The US Navy sent a guided missile destroyer within 12 nautical miles of artificial island built by china in the South China Sea on Tuesday. China’s foreign minister Wang Yi said Beijing was trying to verify if the US ship had entered the 12-mile zone.
The official said the USS Lassen was sailing near Subi and Mischief reefs in the Spratly archipelago, features that were submerged at high tide before China began a massive dredging project to turn them into islands in 2014. The mission would be the start of a series of challenges to China’s territorial claims in one of the world’s busiest sea lanes, another US defense official said.
The second official earlier said the ship would likely be accompanied by a US Navy P-8A surveillance plane and possibly P-3 surveillance plane, which have been conducting regular surveillance missions in the region.
The patrols represent the most serious US challenge yet to 12-nautical-mile territorial limits China claims around the islands and are certain to anger Beijing, which said last month it would “never allow any country” to violate its territorial waters.
China claims most of the South China Sea, one of the world’s busiest sea lanes, through which more than $5 trillion of world trade passes every year. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan have rival claims.
Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, 12-nautical mile limits cannot be set around man-made islands built on previously submerged reefs.
Some US officials have said that the plan for patrols was aimed in part at testing Xi’s statement on militarisation.