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US ship sails by China-claimed islands in South China Sea

US ship sails by China-claimed islands in South China Sea

An aerial view of an uninhabited island of the Spratly Islands in the disputed South China Sea, Apr 21, 2017. (File photo: REUTERS/Erik De Castro)

WASHINGTON: A US Navy warship sailed by islands claimed by China in the South China Sea on Wednesday (Feb 17) in a freedom of navigation operation, marking the latest move by Washington to challenge Beijing's territorial claims in the contested waters.

The US Navy's Seventh 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, Vietnam and Taiwan also have lodged competing claims for some or all of the islands.

READ: China says US military in South China Sea not good for peace

China's extensive territorial claims in the resource-rich waters have become a hot button issue in an increasingly testy Sino-US 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.

READ: US stands with Southeast Asian countries against China pressure: Blinken

Washington has denounced what it called Beijing's attempts to bully neighbours with competing interests. China has repeatedly denounced what it called US efforts to foment unrest in the region and interfere in what it regards as its internal affairs.

The US ship's pass by the Spratly Islands follows a joint exercise by two US carrier groups in the 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.

Source: Reuters/dv

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