BEIJING (Dispatches) -- A U.S. Navy warship sailed by islands claimed by China in the South China Sea on Wednesday, marking the latest move by Washington to challenge Beijing’s territorial claims in the waters.
The U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet said destroyer USS Russell "asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the Spratly Islands, consistent with international law.”
China claims sovereignty over the entire archipelago, but Brunei, Malaysia, The Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have lodged competing claims for some or all of the islands.
Washington’s meddling has become a hot button issue in an increasingly testy Sino-U.S. relationship. The two countries are at odds over trade, the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hong Kong, Taiwan and accusations of human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims.
Washington accuses Beijing of attempting to bully neighbors with competing interests. China has repeatedly denounced U.S. efforts to foment unrest in the region and interfere in its internal affairs.
The U.S. ship’s pass by the Spratly Islands follows a joint exercise by two U.S. carrier groups in South China Sea and another warship sailing near Chinese-controlled Paracel islands earlier this month. Those actions had suggested that the Biden administration was not about to scale back operations challenging Beijing’s claims after the ramp-up seen during the Trump administration.
Last week, President Xi Jinping told Biden in their first phone conversation that a potential confrontation between China and the United States would be a "disaster.”
President Xi insisted that cooperation between Beijing and Washington was the "only choice.”
"The two countries should work together, meet each other half way... focus on cooperation, manage differences, and promote the healthy and stable development of China-U.S. relations,” Xi said.
Las month, China complained that the United States frequently sends aircraft and vessels into the South China Sea, through which trillion dollars in trade flow every year, to "flex its muscles”.