Triton Island in the South China Sea, according to a US official,
possibly complicating President Donald Trump’s meeting with his Chinese
counterpart this week.
The US Navy sent the destroyer USS Stethem
within 22 kilometres of Triton Island on Sunday, said the official, who
wasn’t authorised to speak publicly. The warship was passing through
those waters on the basis of innocent passage, the official said.
Taiwan and Vietnam all lay claim to Triton, a tiny speck that’s one of
the Paracel Islands in the waters between Vietnam and the Philippines.
Operations such as this are typically planned at least weeks in advance,
the official said.
The 12-mile (22km) line is the internationally
recognised distance that separates the shores of a sovereign nation
from international waters. The United States has routinely conducted
voyages within this limit around islands in the South China Sea as a
message to countries such as China, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines.
Still, the sea patrol move could signal that the US is displeased
with China based on the extent of its efforts to pressure North Korea to
curb its missile and nuclear programs. The White House has made several
moves in recent weeks, including announcing economic sanctions against
Chinese companies with ties to North Korea.
China’s Ministry of
Foreign Affairs termed the operation “trespassing” and said Beijing had
dispatched military vessels and planes in response. China is
“dissatisfied with and opposed to the relevant behaviour of the
US side,” Lu Kang, a spokesperson for the foreign ministry, said in a
statement on the government’s website.
“The Chinese side strongly urges the US side to immediately stop such
kind of provocative operations that violate China’s sovereignty and
threaten China’s security,” Kang said in the statement. “The Chinese
side will continue to take all necessary means to defend national
sovereignty and security.”
In the Paracel Island chain and in the Spratlys, China has built up a
number of small islands into fully functional military facilities
complete with airfields and antiaircraft defences. The White House, in
both the Obama and Trump administrations, has seen the militarisation of
the South China Sea as a threat to stability in the resource-rich
region, where ships from numerous countries have long fished.
is scheduled to meet with China’s Xi Jinping at the G20 summit of world
leaders in Hamburg, Germany, that starts on July 7. He was also
expected to have a call with the Chinese President on Sunday night US
Jae-in, Trump said “the era of strategic patience with the North Korean
regime has failed.” In a Twitter message on June 20, Trump said that
while he appreciated the efforts of Xi and China to help out with North
Korea, “it has not worked out”.
A spokesman for the US Pacific
Fleet declined to comment on any specific operations but said that all
US operations are conducted in accordance with international law,
including those in the South China Sea.