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Navy Ships Sail Near Disputed islands In the South China Sea Again

The Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Higgins (DDG 76) steams through the Arabian Gulf on Dec. 1, 2015, during exercise Spartan Kopis. (MC2 Gabriel Bevan/Navy)

Tensions between the U.S. and China flared again on Sunday as two U.S. Navy warships cruised near South China Sea islands claimed by Beijing.

The guided-missile destroyer Higgins and the guided-missile cruiser Antietam sailed within 12 nautical miles of the disputed Paracel Islands during a scheduled freedom of navigation operation, Reuters reported.

The move angered Chinese officials, who claim the island group as sovereign territory.

China’s Defense Ministry said it sent ships and aircraft to warn the U.S. vessels to leave the area. The U.S. military did not directly comment on the incident, but maintained its right to conduct routine and regular FONOPS in the region.

During a stop in Hawaii to mark a change in leadership at U.S. Pacific Command, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Tuesday that the U.S. will continue to confront China’s militarization of manmade islands in the South China Sea.


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