China warns US after warships sail in disputed South China Sea

China told two US warships to turn back after they sailed near disputed islands without permission. The busy waterway is the latest flashpoint as relations between the world's biggest economies continue to strain.

China said on Monday that it has warned two US ships sailing near disputed islands in the South China Sea to leave the area.

The move comes amid heightened tension between Beijing and Washington over trade tariffs, sanctions and Taiwan.

Warships in the South China Sea

  • US guided-missile destroyers Preble and Chung-Hoon traveled within 12 nautical miles of Gaven and Johnson Reefs.
  • The reefs form part of the Spratly Islands, a region of the South China Sea over which China claims sovereignty.
  • The Foreign Ministry said the US vessels entered the waters without Chinese permission.

'Infringed on Chinese sovereignty'

Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a press conference that China "is strongly dissatisfied and is resolutely opposed" to the US operation.

"The relevant moves by the US ships infringed upon Chinese sovereignty, and damaged the peace, security and good order of the relevant seas," Geng said. "China urges the United States to stop such provocative actions."

Geng added that China would continue to take the necessary steps to defend its sovereignty.

Commander Clay Doss, a spokesman for the US Navy's Seventh Fleet, told Reuters that the "innocent passage" aimed "to challenge excessive maritime claims and preserve access to the waterways as governed by international law."

Disputed waters: The 3.5 million-square-kilometer (1.4 million-square-mile) body of water, which lies between China, Vietnam and the Philippines, in the Pacific Ocean, sees one third of the world's shipping traffic. China occupies several islands in the sea and frequently reprimands the US and its allies over their naval operations. Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, The Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have competing claims in the region.

Trading barbs: Washington claims Beijing is militarizing the South China Sea by building military installations and artificial islands and reefs. Monday's operation was the latest attempt by the US to counter what it sees as China's efforts to limit freedom of navigation in strategic waters. China defends its construction as self-defense, saying the US is responsible for increasing tensions in the region by sending warships and military planes close to the islands it claims.

Tense US-China relations: The dispute in the South China Sea is one of several quarrels between the world's two biggest economies. US President Donald Trump has ignited a trade war with the far east nation — on Sunday, he threatened to raise tariffs on $200 billion ($178 billion) of Chinese goods from 10% to 25%. Beijing also laments the US recognition of Taiwan, which it still considers part of China, and has warned of "consequences" after Washington imposed sanctions on the Chinese military over its purchase of Russian fighter jets. 

Heated Trump tariff dispute reaches tipping point

A presidential proclamation

Flanked by steel workers, US President Donald Trump signed a presidential proclamation on global metal tariffs in March, claiming that subsidized imports were damaging domestic producers. The measures were targeted primarily at overproduction by China but, in a tweet, Trump also described the European Union as "wonderful countries who treat the US very badly on trade."

Heated Trump tariff dispute reaches tipping point

Glut on the market

Heavy tariffs had been recommended on China, Russia and other countries by the US Commerce Department. It said that normal methods used to prevent dumping of products at low prices onto US markets had failed. Although China was singled out as particularly responsible for causing the glut in steel and aluminum, the recommendation was that other countries should also take a hit.

Heated Trump tariff dispute reaches tipping point

Escalating dispute

China said it would respond to the US plans to impose tariff by adding a 25 percent tariff on products from the US — including pork, wine, apples and ginseng. Washington hit back with a list of technological targets to be slapped with new duties, with Beijing then imposing duties on soybeans — a product for which China is US producers' main market.

Heated Trump tariff dispute reaches tipping point

South Korea makes concessions

Among the countries hit by the tariffs was South Korea, which agreed to cut steel exports to the US by 30 percent and accept extended tariffs on South Korea pickup trucks by the US. Seoul also said it would open up its car market more widely to the US, its second-largest trading partner. The Trump administration had instigated talks last year to renegotiate its KORUS trade deal with the US.

Heated Trump tariff dispute reaches tipping point

Europe on one page

The leaders of France, Britain and Germany said they would be ready to retaliate if the EU were not permanently exempted from the tariffs. According to the office of French President Emmanuel Macron, he had discussed the tariffs with Chancellor Angela Merkel and Prime Minister Theresa May. The three hoped the US wouldn't take measures "contrary to transatlantic interests," a spokesperson said.

Heated Trump tariff dispute reaches tipping point

Icons of America

Before the US introduced its temporary waiver on the tariffs for the EU, Brussels had threatened Washington with raising duties on some particularly iconic American goods. They included US bourbon, peanut butter, Harley Davidson motorcycles and blue jeans.

Heated Trump tariff dispute reaches tipping point

North American neighbors

It's expected that Canada and Mexico could receive longer tariff exemptions. That's because negotiations over the levies have become intertwined with talks about the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

dv/rt (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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