US Navy warships sail in South China Sea near contested manmade island

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The move angered Beijing at a time when the United States and China ton are locked in a trade war and are negotiating a deal ahead of a March 1 deadline when U.S. tariffs on $ 200 billion worth of Chinese imports are expected to increase to 25 per cent from 10 per cent.

Two U.S. guided-missile destroyers on Monday sailed near the Chinese manmade island of Mischief Reef in the South China Sea, the location of several territorial conflicts that have raised tensions in the region.

She urged the United States to cease the "provocative actions".

Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing that the ships entered the waters without China's permission.

China has laid claim to nearly all of the strategic South China Sea which is viewed as important for shipping lanes and potential resources.

Two Arleigh Burke-class destroyers - the USS Spruance and the USS Preble - conducted a freedom-of-navigation operation on Monday, sailing within 12 nautical miles of Chinese outposts in the contested Spratly Islands. Other regional nations-such as the Philippines and Vietnam-lay claim to part of the waterway and the US routinely pushes back against China by sending ships to patrol the sea.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Navy's 7th Fleet confirmed the FONOP Monday afternoon with global media, stating that the operation was conducted "to challenge excessive maritime claims and preserve access to the waterways as governed by worldwide law".

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"All operations are designed in accordance with worldwide law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail, and operate wherever global law allows", said Doss.

China then accused the U.S. of trespassing, and Chinese media announced it had deployed a "far-reaching anti-ship ballistic missile", the DF-26, that was "capable of targeting medium and large ships".

Analysts have said it would be hard for the world's two largest economies to resolve their trade disputes by the designated date, given the challenge of U.S. demands for structural reform in China to address issues of intellectual property protection, forced technology transfers and state subsidies favouring domestic companies.

Over the last five years China has rapidly built artificial islands housing significant military infrastructure on what had been low-lying reefs.

China says the bases are essential for self-defense and accused the United States of ramping up tensions in the region by sending battleships and warplanes close to the disputed islands.

"There's been sort of a steady increase", Admiral John Richardson, the US Chief of Naval Operations, told reporters earlier this month when asked about China's militarization of the area.