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USS John S. McCain challenges China, sails near contested islands in South China Sea

August 10, 2017

The U.S. Navy destroyer USS John S. McCain performed a “Freedom of Navigation” operation (FONOP) on Thursday, coming within 12 nautical miles of a man-made island falsely claimed by China in the South China Sea.

U.S. officials reported exclusively to Reuters that the U.S. Navy destroyer performed the operation and traveled near Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands.


The contested islands are claimed by various countries, and China does not own them. However, China lashed out after the United States’ last FONOP in the South China Sea, saying it was a military provocation.

The current FONOP exercise comes during a time when tensions are running high in the world regarding North Korea, given Kim Jong Un’s latest threat to bomb Guam, a U.S. territory, and its two tests in July of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). The United States would seek China’s cooperation against North Korea.

This is not the first time the United States has sailed near islands that China falsely claims as its own. This is the third FONOP under President Donald Trump.

In May, the USS Dewey sailed less than 12 nautical miles from Mischief Reef, of the Spratly Islands, which are man-made islands claimed by Beijing.

The May incident was the first time something like this had happened under President Trump’s administration. Relations with China were supposedly on the rise, as the White House wants to ensure China’s cooperation on issues such as North Korea.

Then, in early July, the USS Stethem sailed within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island, a contested South China Sea island that is claimed by China, Vietnam and Taiwan.

With the United States sailing a destroyer inside that distance, it was viewed as a challenge to China’s perceived authority and claim there, and China said this act was a “serious and political military provocation.”