China Expresses ‘Strong Dissatisfaction’ After U.S. Warships Sail near Spratly Islands

President Donald Trump gestures near Chinese Vice Premier Liu He at the White House

The USS Preble was one of two warships conducting the operation; they were shadowed by Chinese assets, but the interactions were routine and uneventful, according to a US official.

The alleged incursion by two US warships into the internationally disputed waters of the South China Sea was the second such move within five weeks.

The Spratly Islands are a disputed group of islands, islets and cays and more than 100 reefs, sometimes grouped in submerged old atolls, in the South China Sea.

China claimed Monday that the ships entered without official permission but a spokesman for the US Navy's 7th Fleet told CNN that the operation was to "challenge excessive maritime claims and preserve access to the waterways as governed by global law".

As U.S. -China trade negotiations resumes with deputy level meetings, the two countries are trying to hammer out a deal before the March 1 deadline.

"Such exercises have often been carried out by the U.S. Navy and have been the cause diplomatic tensions between Washington and Beijing".

Beijing sharply criticised the operation.

The guided-missile destroyers USS Spruance and USS Preble sailed near the Beijing-claimed Spratly Islands earlier Monday as part of what Washington calls "freedom of navigation operations", Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily press briefing.

China's claim was largely discredited by an global arbitration tribunal three years ago, but Beijing has rejected the ruling.

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Monday's sail-by is the second U.S. freedom-of-navigation operation in the South China Sea this year.

The US has accused Beijing of installing missiles and other military hardware on the disputed islands.

Shortly after that operation, China accused the U.S. of trespassing in its territorial waters - and said it had deployed missiles "capable of targeting medium and large ships".

The US has also sailed warships through the Taiwan Strait, drawing Beijing's ire.

'The relevant actions of the USA warships violated Chinese sovereignty, and undermined peace, security, and order in the relevant sea areas, ' Hua said.

During a South China Sea freedom-of-navigation operation in September, a Chinese destroyer challenged a US vessel to a showdown, forcing the US Navy ship off course and risking a deadly collision.

"We've got big interests there so we're going to remain there", he added, noting that about a third of the world's trade passed through those waters.

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