The U.S. military said two of its warships sailed near islands claimed by China in the South China Sea on Monday, a move that could anger Beijing at a time of tense relations between the world’s two biggest economies.
Reuters reports that the U.S. guided-missile destroyers Preble and Chung Hoon travelled within 12 nautical miles of Gaven and Johnson Reefs in the Spratly Islands.
The South China Sea is one of a growing number of flashpoints in the U.S.-China relationship, which also include a trade war, U.S. sanctions and Taiwan.
President Donald Trump dramatically increased pressure on China to reach a trade deal by announcing on Sunday he would hike U.S. tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods this week and target hundreds of billions more soon.
The operation was the latest attempt to counter what Washington sees as Beijing’s efforts to limit freedom of navigation in the strategic waters, where Chinese, Japanese and some Southeast Asian navies operate.
China claims almost all of the strategic South China Sea and frequently lambastes the United States and its allies over naval operations near Chinese-occupied islands.
Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia and Taiwan have competing claims in the region.