05/25/2017, 09.45
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US warships in contested waters of the South China Sea. The wrath of Beijing

The USS Dewey passed through the 12 nautical miles in the Mischief Reef area in the Spratlys. It is the first case of "intrusion" in an area under Chinese control since the beginning of the Trump presidency. Washington claims the right to "freedom of navigation" in the area. The region is becoming a hub of conflict.

Beijing (AsiaNews / Agencies) - An US navy vessel sailed in the controversial waters of the South China Sea, approaching an artificial island built by China in an area that Beijing - in violation of international law - regards it as "territorial waters ". Similar incidents had occurred in the past, but this is the first case of "intrusion" in an area under Chinese control since US President Donald Trump's establishment in the White House last January.

According to an anonymous source, relayed by the US media, in the early hours of today the USS Dewey passed through the 12 nautical miles in the Mischief Reef area of ​​the Spratly Islands. In doing so, Washington wanted to claim its right to "freedom of navigation" in the area.

The exercise risks triggering Beijing's wrath, given that it claims exclusive control of the area. A further outbreak of tension in the area, at a time when Washington is looking for Beijing’s support to contain a North Korean military escalation in the region.

While China is an anti-Pyongyang-style ally, there are still strong oppositions between the two world powers on the economic and regional issues. In particular, the White House has repeatedly challenged the Chinese annexation of the islands – also contested by others including Manila and Hanoi - and called for a diplomatic resolution of the dispute.

In addition, the US government believes that Beijing is "militarizing" the South China Sea, a key route for civilian and commercial navigation. In response, the Chinese point their finger at the United States for the "growing" number of maritime exercises and the number of patrol vessels in the area.

Experts believe the region risks turning into a hub of conflict, with potentially catastrophic consequences globally.

Last week the skies of the eastern China Sea were the scene of the ninth episode of "war games" in the area: two Chinese Su 30 jets intercepted a US 135 WC jet – an airplane specializing in data collection on radiation - in flight in the area. The US pilot denounced the "non-professional" behaviour of Beijing aircraft that came too close endangering manoeuvres. A similar episode took place in February when a Chinese plane crossed a US intelligence by a few hundred meters.

The Chinese government claims most of the sea (almost 85 per cent), including sovereignty over the disputed Spratly and Paracel islands, in opposition to Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia. The Philippines – which is seeking a non-binding international ruling at the UN court – together with Vietnam, is increasingly worried about Beijing's imperialism in the South China and East China seas.

For the United States, which backs the claims of Southeast Asia nations, Beijing's so-called 'cow tongue' line – which covers 80% of the 3.5 km2 - is both "illegal" and "irrational".

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