USA destroyer sent to Chinese waters as North Korea crisis deepens

John S. Mc Cain at sea

China's foreign ministry says a United States navy destroyer that carried out a "freedom of navigation operation" in the South China Sea violated global and Chinese law and seriously harmed Beijing's sovereignty and security.

The freedom of navigation operation - known in the military as a "FONOP" - is likely to provoke Beijing and was the third of its kind carried out by the United States since President Donald Trump took office.

McCain destroyer sailed within six nautical miles of Mischief Reef, part of the disputed Spratly Islands south of the Paracel Islands.

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Tensions escalated a few years ago when China began to build seven reefs, including Mischief, into islands, including three with runways, which the USA and China's neighbors fear could be used to project Beijing's military might and potentially obstruct freedom of navigation. China's claims in the South China Sea, through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes each year are contested by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. The Trump administration has vowed to conduct more robust South China Sea operations.

A Navy official confirmed the operation to Fox News, saying that a US Navy P-8 reconnaissance plane flew nearby to monitor the operation, but stayed outside of the airspace claimed by China. It is also believed to be rich in natural resources, including oil.

The US says it supports none of the nations' claims in the area and insists that the sea should be a neutral space available for free navigation.

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Washington is accusing China of taking an aggressive stance on the issue because of its island reclamation projects.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official told AFP a Chinese frigate sent radio warnings at least 10 times to the USS McCain. It's part of the Seventh Fleet based in Yokosuka, Japan.

Tensions between Washington and Beijing over how to thwart North Korea's nuclear ambitions rose as the U.S. sent a navy destroyer into waters claimed by China.

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Washington is dependent on Beijing to rein in the belligerent North Korea.

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