An announcement Sunday from the Chinese military warned it had dispatched warships to challenge two US Navy vessels that traveled through China-owned waters in the South Sea. China's Ministry of National Defense said in a statement on its website that it had warned the US ships to leave but no other details were released surrounding the standoff. The two US warships involved were carrying out maneuvers known as "freedom of navigation operations."
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The US destroyer called the Higgins, and the Antietam, a cruiser class ship, were said to have passed within 12 nautical miles of the Paracel Islands. The archipelago is located off the coast of Vietnam and is in the northern part of disputed waters of the South China Sea. China's Ministry of National Defense spokesman Senior Colonel Wu Qian said that the United States "gravely violated Chinese sovereignty." The freedom of navigation operations slowed under Obama but picked up again under President Trump and are intended to exercise what the United States says are its rights since China's territory in the disputed areas are not recognized.
Recent months have seen China reinforcing and arming various bases in the islands claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan and more. The country has been more determined than ever to defend its claims in the South China Sea. Wu said in the statement, "The United States naval vessels Antietam and Higgins entered without Chinese government permission into territorial waters." He added that China's military would be "firm and unwavering in its determination to strengthen sea and air operational preparedness construction."
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China announced on May 18th it had landed its new H-6K strategic bomber on an outpost in the Paracels, Wood Island. The United States also formally protested the deployment of missiles and radar equipment and accused Beijing of breaking a promise the Chinese president Xi Jinping made in 2015 when he said the country would not militarize the disputed territories.
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