A U.S. Navy warship sailed within 12 nautical miles of a disputed island claimed by China in the South China Sea Tuesday, in a move that is sure to spark outrage from Beijing as tensions in the region escalate.
Department of Defense spokesperson Bill Urban told Reuters that the USS William P. Lawrence’s maneuver near Fiery Cross Reef was to “challenge excessive maritime claims” in the South China Sea. It is the latest freedom of navigation operation from the U.S. in the disputed region.
Fiery Cross is a showpiece of China’s South China Sea presence. Last week, state-run TV broadcast images of a People’s Liberation Army song troupe performing at the reef, which it has expanded to accommodate a 3,000 ft runway, several buildings, and roads.
China treats nearly every reef and shoal in the vital commercial waterway as its own, rebuffing overlapping territorial claims from the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei. Although Washington has called for a diplomatic resolution to the disputes, it has recently challenged Beijing’s territorial ambitions with naval and air operations. Both nations have accused each other of militarizing the region.