China on Thursday voiced strong protest against a US Navy warship passing close to the Meiji Reef in the South China Sea.
More significantly, the latest USA naval patrol comes days after a meeting of China and ASEAN foreign ministers in the Philippines had agreed a framework for a code of conduct in the South China Sea which is contested by multiple claimants including China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and the Philippines.
The disputes and North Korea's recent intercontinental ballistic missile tests were high on the agenda of an annual gathering of Asia-Pacific foreign ministers last weekend in Manila. Throwing open its strategic South Sea Fleet (SSF) base in the coastal city of Zhanjiang to a group of Indian journalists for the first time, People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) officials say the Indian Ocean is a common place for the global community.
Japan worries that China's probing of its air defences is part of a push to extend its military influence in the East China Sea and western Pacific, where Japan controls an island chain stretching 1,400 km (870 miles) south towards Taiwan.
This is the third time that the US Navy has conducted a "freedom of navigation operation" or "fonop" under the Donald Trump presidency.
"Its behaviour has violated the Chinese law and relevant worldwide law, infringed upon China's sovereignty, disrupted peace, security and order of the relevant waters and put in jeopardy the facilities and personnel on the Chinese islands, and thus constitutes a serious political and military provocation".
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The CSIS report said 64 per cent of China's maritime trade passed through the sea, compared to 14 per cent of U.S. maritime trade.
"They happen off the coast of Canada" and "in the waters off shore of our major allies, friends, partners all around the world", she said.
Two other US Navy ships approached China-claimed islands in the South China Sea in July and May.
The United States has criticized China's construction of islands and build-up of military facilities in the sea, and is concerned they could be used to restrict free nautical movement.
The Chinese defence ministry said in a statement that the move was provocative and would severely damage the two nations' strategic trust and created difficulties and obstacles for their militaries.
"The continuing reclamation and militarization of disputed territories in the waters, if the report from a Washington-based think tank are accurate, these can be taken up by the ASEAN in future discussions".
The Joint Communiqué reflects the consensus of the ministers on issues concerning ASEAN, wherein Vietnam and the Philippines are member states.
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