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US Sends Destroyer to Test China Sea Claim


The US Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Lassen sails in the Pacific Ocean in a November 2009 photo provided by the U.S. Navy.

The US Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Lassen sails in the Pacific Ocean in a November 2009 photo provided by the U.S. Navy.


A United States naval destroyer sailed on Tuesday within 22 kilometers of China’s man-made islands in the South China Sea.

Some observers are describing the incident as the biggest test yet to China’s self-declared territorial limits around the island reef.

The area in question is called Subi reef. The naval guided missile destroyer the USS Lassen was reportedly traveling with a U.S. Navy surveillance airplane. Reports say another plane, also used for gathering intelligence, may have been in the area. A U.S. military source said the mission was completed without incident.

China’s foreign ministry said the U.S. ship was watched, followed and warned after it “illegally” entered Chinese waters. A foreign ministry spokesman in Beijing described the American action as “a threat to China’s sovereignty.”

FILE - An aerial photo taken though a glass window of a Philippine military plane shows the alleged ongoing land reclamation by China on mischief reef in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, west of Palawan, Philippines.

FILE - An aerial photo taken though a glass window of a Philippine military plane shows the alleged ongoing land reclamation by China on mischief reef in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, west of Palawan, Philippines.

Close to 200 Chinese troops are believed to be stationed at Subi reef. The reef is also claimed by Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Weeks ago, U.S. officials said its navy would send a ship inside the disputed area. Some observers are predicting the Navy will continue such patrols.

“I don’t think anybody will be surprised that it happened,” said Sheila Smith. Ms. Smith is a Japan specialist with the Council on Foreign Relations. “The United States Navy will maintain its presence in the South China Sea as it has for decades,” she added.

China has been developing man-made islands in the disputed waters. Chinese crews are building up the low-lying reefs and creating islands. Their build-up is seen by other countries as evidence of aggression in the South China Sea.

Other countries in Asia are closely watching the situation. On Tuesday, Japanese officials expressed concern about China’s action in the disputed waters. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters, “We’re closely coordinating our intelligence information with the United States.”

I’m Mario Ritter.

Do you have an interest in South China Sea issues? Please leave a comment below or on our Facebook page.

VOA correspondent Steve Herman reported on this story. Jim Dresbach adapted this story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

mission – n. specific military or naval project

reef – n. a long line of rocks or coral or a high area of sand near the surface of the water in the ocean

stationed – v. to send someone to a station or position

sovereignty – n. power; the right of a state to govern itself

This is a developing story. What do you think about the tensions in the South China Sea? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section.

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