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US Naval Vessel Sails Near Chinese-held Reef in South China Sea

  • VOA News

FILE - Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, May 21, 2015.

A U.S. Navy warship on Thursday sailed within 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles) of a Chinese-controlled reef in the South China Sea, in the first mission under President Donald Trump to challenge Beijing's territorial claims in the disputed waterway.

U.S. military officials said the guided missile destroyer USS Dewey passed near Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands.

U.S. military spokesman Major Jamie Davis said the United States was continuing its operations aimed at upholding freedom of navigation in international waters.

American forces operate daily in the South China Sea and will continue to "fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows," Davis said.

A spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry told reporters Thursday that the U.S. patrol undermined peace and stability in the South China Sea.

A U.S. defense official told VOA on Thursday that a Chinese military frigate "shadowed" the Dewey throughout the entire freedom-of-navigation operation. Another Chinese frigate and a Chinese coast guard vessel also were nearby when the American warship passed near the reef, the official added.

The United States and other nations have criticized Beijing for its island-building in the region, which is home to one of the world's busiest shipping routes. Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam and other Asian nations also have competing claims to region.

VOA's Carla Babb contributed to this report from the Pentagon.

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