US destroyer challenges China in the South China Sea just days after US bombers rip past

TENGKU BAHAR/AFP/Getty ImagesA Royal Malaysian Navy sentry stands guard in front of the USS Decatur, an Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyer which conducted freedom of navigation exercises 12 miles off the Chinese-held Spratly Islands this week.
  • The US Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Decatur challenged China’s excessive sea claims in the hotly-contested South China Sea on Sunday.
  • The latest freedom-of-navigation operation comes after US Air Force B-52H Stratofortress heavy long-range bombers flew through the South and East China Sea three times in the past week.
  • China has labelled US military activities in the region “provocative,” and the People’s Liberation Army conducted its own drills in the South China Sea after issuing a warning to the US.
  • The recent spats over disputed waterways come amid rising tension between Washington and Beijing over issues ranging from trade to military matters.

The US sent a warship Sunday to challenge China’s expansive claims to the disputed South China Sea, sailing near Chinese-occupied territories.

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Decatur conducted a freedom-of-navigation operation, sailing within 12 nautical miles of Chinese-held territories in the Spratly Islands, CNN reported Sunday. The US Navy’s freedom-of-navigation operations “challenge excessive maritime claims and demonstrate our commitment to uphold the rights, freedoms, and uses of the sea and airspace guaranteed to all nations under international law,” a US official told reporters.

The Navy has conducted more than half a dozen such operations since the start of the Trump administration.

The latest challenge to China comes on the heels of three different US B-52 bomber flights over disputed seas. Two B-52H Stratofortress heavy long-range bombers flew over the South China Sea last Sunday and this past Tuesday, and another linked up with Japanese fighters for joint drills over the East China Sea Wednesday, according to Pacific Air Forces.

Last month, B-52 bombers flew over the East and South China Sea a total of four times.

US allies and partners have also been stepping up their activities in the contested South China Sea. Earlier this month, the UK Royal Navy amphibious assault ship HMS Albion sailed near the Paracel Islands, prompting China to send out a frigate and two helicopters to challenge the British vessel.

Over the past month and change, Japan has sent submarines to the South China Sea for exercises, a first for the country, and drilled alongside the US.

China called the most recent bomber flights “provocative,” warning that it would take “necessary measures” to safeguard its national interests. This weekend, China conducted “live fire shooting drills” in the South China Sea to improve its combat capabilities.

These incidents on and above tense tides in the East and South China Sea come amid the deterioration of US-China relations over issues ranging from trade to Taiwan to military matters.

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