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US warship challenges China's claims with first operation under Trump

A US Navy destroyer has sailed close to a disputed South China Sea island controlled by China for the first time under US President Donald Trump.
The USS Dewey sailed within 12 miles (20 kilometers) of Mischief Reef, in the Spratly Island chain, on Wednesday, in a "freedom of navigation operation," according to a US official.
China's Defense Ministry said Thursday two Chinese frigates had "warned and dispelled" the USS Dewey after had entered its waters "without permission."
"We firmly opposed to the US behavior of showing force and boosting regional militarization, and have made solemn representation to the US side," Defense Ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang said.
While he didn't confirm details of this particular operation, Pentagon Spokesperson Capt. Jeff Davis told CNN, "We operate in the Asia-Pacific region on a daily basis, including in the South China Sea."
"We operate in accordance with international law. We fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows," he added.
A crucial shipping route, China claims ownership of the vast majority of the South China Sea, including the Paracel and Spratly island chains, a claim disputed by numerous other countries including the Philippines and Vietnam.

 The Chinese government has reclaimed land and built up artificial islands in the sea, including on Mischief Reef, and deployed military assets to them.
The US regularly undertook freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea under former US President Barack Obama, but there had been suggestions the Trump administration was putting them off to avoid antagonizing China. Analysts said that Wednesday's operation didn't necessarily indicate US policy in the South China Sea had changed.
"Sooner or later there had to be a freedom of navigation operation and here it is. Does that mean the US has changed its policy in the South China Sea? No. It's just a continuation of the Obama policy," Ian Storey, a senior fellow at the ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, said.
The Pentagon says freedom of navigation operations are "not about any one country, or any one body of water."

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