China Expresses ‘Strong Dissatisfaction’ After U.S. Warships Sail near Spratly Islands

Traders work on the floor of the NYSE in New York

Traders work on the floor of the NYSE in New York

Beijing and Washington are locked in a trade war and the two sides are trying to hammer out a deal ahead of a March 1 deadline when USA tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports are scheduled to increase to 25 per cent from 10 per cent.

British Defense Minister Gavin Williamson confirmed in a speech Monday morning that the Royal Navy's HMS Queen Elizabeth will sail into waters that are the subject of dispute between China and other nations.

China claims nearly all of the South China Sea and frequently criticises the United States and its allies over naval operations near Chinese-occupied islands.

The US delegates and their counterparts began preliminary talks in the Chinese capital on Monday, before higher-level discussions led on the US side by Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Thursday and Friday. When asked if the Navy's move would affect the talks, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying called it "a series of US tricks, "according to Reuters".

The Spratly Islands are a disputed group of islands, islets and cays and more than 100 reefs, sometimes grouped in submerged old atolls, in the South China Sea.

It was the second such U.S. operation in the South China Sea this year.

China claimed Monday that the ships entered without official permission but a spokesman for the US Navy's 7th Fleet told CNN that the operation was to "challenge excessive maritime claims and preserve access to the waterways as governed by worldwide law".

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China's foreign ministry issued an angry response.

The operation was the US's latest attempt to counter what it sees as China's mission to limit freedom of navigation in the strategic waters where Chinese, Japanese and Southeast Asian navies operated. In January, the destroyer USS McCampbell sailed within 12 nautical miles of the Paracel Islands.

Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam also have territorial claims in the region.

It has claimed the U.S. is responsible for ratcheting up war fears in the region by sending warships and military planes close to territory China believes it is entitled to.

An airstrip, structures, and buildings on China's man-made Subi Reef in the Spratly chain of islands in the South China Sea.

"There's been sort of a steady increase", Admiral John Richardson, the US Chief of Naval Operations, told reporters earlier this month when asked about China's militarization of the area.

The two countries are also at loggerheads over regional security, with the United States offering support to the island nation of Taiwan, which China also claims as its own.

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