Recent developments surrounding the South China Sea

US sends warships near disputed island in South China Sea: report | TheHill

The US vessels - the Higgins, a destroyer, and the Antietam, a cruiser - passed within 12 nautical miles of the Paracel islands, an archipelago in the northern part of the disputed waters of the South China Sea off the coast of Vietnam.

The patrol was apparently the first time the USA had sent warships two simultaneously conduct a FONOP in the area.

"China will continue to take all necessary measures to defend the country's sovereignty and security", it added, without elaborating.

The military vessels carried out manoeuvring operations near Tree, Lincoln, Triton and Woody islands in the Paracels, a United States official said on condition of anonymity.

The US did not confirm whether or not the operations took place.

China's military, he said, would be "firm and unwavering in its determination to strengthen sea and air operational preparedness construction" on the islands. "All operations are conducted in accordance with worldwide law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever global law allows".

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"We conduct routine and regular Freedom of Navigation operations, as we have done in the past and will continue to do in the future", the US Pacific Fleet said in a statement.

China's claims in the South China Sea, through which about $5 trillion (3.75 trillion pounds) in shipborne trade passes each year, are contested by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

It has also built seven man-made islets in the Spratlys, with three - Fiery Cross, Subi and Mischief reefs - all boasting military-grade airfields, despite a 2015 pledge by Chinese President Xi Jinping not to further militarize them.

The confrontation occurred near the disputed Paracel Islands, which are claimed by China and its neighbors, amid escalating military tension between the United States and China and planning for an on again-off again summit over North Korea's nuclear arsenal.

The Vietnamese government protested China's move as a violation of its sovereign claim to the islands-exactly the language used by China to protest USA actions today after sending its own warships to warn away the Americans.

Critics of the operations, known as a "freedom of navigation", have said that they have little impact on Chinese behavior and are largely symbolic. The U.S. Department of Defense did not make any on-record statement confirming the latest reported FONOP in the Paracels.

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