The US navy are sending one of their warships towards China to challenge them on their territorial claims over artificial islands built by China in the South China Sea.
The USS Lassen destroyer will be sent to Subi and the Mischief reefs in the Spratly archipelago.
The Guardian reports:
The ship would probably be accompanied by a US navy P-8A surveillance plane, and possibly P-3 surveillance plane, which have been conducting regular surveillance missions in the region, the official said on Monday.
The patrol will mark the most serious US challenge yet to the 12-nautical-mile territorial limit China claims around the islands, and follows months of deliberation.
Additional patrols could follow in coming weeks, the official said.
Similar US patrols were also conducted around features that Vietnam and the Philippines have built up in the Spratlys in the past, according to the US Defense Department.
The move risks significantly upsetting already strained ties with China, the world’s second-biggest economy, with which US business and economic interests are deeply intertwined.
The patrol will come just weeks ahead of a series of Asia-Pacific summits the US president, Barack Obama, and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, are expected to attend in the second half of November.
China claims most of the South China Sea and on 9 October its foreign ministry warned that Beijing would “never allow any country to violate China’s territorial waters and airspace in the Spratly Islands, in the name of protecting freedom of navigation and overflight”.
The United States argues that under international law, building up artificial islands on previously submerged reefs does not entitle a country to claim a territorial limit and that it is vital to maintain freedom of navigation in a sea through which more than $5tn of world trade passes every year.