China says it Will Increase Air and Sea Patrols After U.S. Warship Passes Near Disputed Island

In this April 2017 file photo, an airstrip, structures and buildings on China's man-made Subi Reef in the Spratly chain of islands in the South China Sea are seen from a Philippine Air Force C-130 transport plane. (Bullit Marquez/AP)
In this April 2017 file photo, an airstrip, structures and buildings on China’s man-made Subi Reef in the Spratly chain of islands in the South China Sea are seen from a Philippine Air Force C-130 transport plane. (Bullit Marquez/AP)

China’s military vowed Monday to step up air and sea patrols after an American warship sailed near a disputed island in the South China Sea in what Beijing called a “serious political and military provocation.”

Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping complained to his American counterpart President Trump about “negative factors” undermining relations between the two countries.

The past few days have seen a dramatic downturn in relations between the two sides, after the United States announced its intention to sell arms to Taiwan and sanction a Chinese bank doing business with North Korea.

Then, on Sunday, the USS Stethem, an American guided-missile destroyer, sailed within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island, a small landmass in the Paracel Islands chain claimed and controlled by China, a U.S. defense official said. The Stethem’s route marked the second such operation since Trump took office.

The Paracels are among a group of islands and atolls in the South China Sea at the heart of ongoing tensions in Southeast Asia. China claims full sovereignty over the sea and has built fully functional military facilities complete with airfields and antiaircraft defenses on some islands.

The White House, in both the Obama and Trump administrations, has seen the militarization of the South China Sea as a threat to stability in the resource-rich region, where ships from numerous countries have long fished.

China’s defense ministry said the United States had “seriously damaged strategic mutual trust” between the two countries by entering what it claimed were China’s territorial waters, while the country’s foreign ministry accused the United States of staging a “serious political and military provocation.”

The incident came just hours before Trump spoke by telephone to Xi — on Sunday night in Washington, Monday morning in Beijing.

During the call, Trump “raised the growing threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs,” the White House said in a statement. Trump earlier spoke by telephone to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the same subject.

But Xi also took the opportunity of the call to make his feelings known, requesting the United States “handle the Taiwan issue appropriately,” according to a Chinese statement.

U.S.-China relations appeared to be on an upswing after Trump said he and Xi had enjoyed “great chemistry” at a meeting in Florida in April.

At the time, Trump expressed confidence in China’s efforts to apply pressure on North Korea to end its nuclear and missile defense program. But officials say frustration has grown in the White House with China’s reluctance to tighten the screws on Pyongyang as much as Washington would have liked.

Xi said bilateral relations have achieved some “important results” since the two men met at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, but noted that they have since been affected by some “negative factors.”

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SOURCE: Simon Denyer and Thomas Gibbons-Neff
The Washington Post