US destroyer sails near disputed island in South China Sea

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Washington, July 2 (IANS) A US Navy destroyer on Sunday sailed within 12 miles (about 19 km) of a disputed island in the South China Sea that is claimed by China, a US military official has said.

The US Navy conducted a “freedom of navigation exercise” around Triton Island in the Paracel archipelago, which is claimed by China, Vietnam and Taiwan, CNN reported.

As part of the exercise, the guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem came within 12 miles of Triton, sailing into what China claims to be its territorial waters.

The US does not recognise Beijing’s claim of sovereignty over the islands, which it has occupied and on which it has been building fortifications, the report said.

The Pentagon declined to comment on the exercise.

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A spokesman for the US Pacific Fleet, Lt. Cmdr. Matt Knight, could not confirm Sunday’s exercise but told CNN they are a routine part of US Navy operations.

The “excessive maritime claims” of 22 countries were challenged in the past fiscal year, he said.

The exercise comes days after the Trump administration made a number of moves that appeared to irk Beijing, including sanctions against Chinese entities doing business with North Korea and the approval of a new arms sale to Taiwan, the CNN report said.

Sunday’s operation was the second reported under the Trump administration.

The first came on May 24, when the guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey sailed within 12 miles (20 kilometres) of Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands chain, which lies to the south of the Paracels.

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