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US Navy destroyer challenges China's claim on trade routes in South China Sea
The U.S. warship, the USS John McCain, recently cruised near disputed Chinese territory in a "freedom of navigation operation" in the South China Sea. (Getty Images)

US Navy destroyer challenges China's claim on trade routes in South China Sea

A U.S. Navy destroyer challenged China's territorial claim on trade routes in the South China Sea on Thursday when the vessel came within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island China built in the area.

According to Reuters, the maneuver by the USS John S. McCain was the third in a "freedom of navigation operation" or "fonop." The operations, according to anonymous officials, were meant to challenge China's claim on trade routes currently contested by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam.

The USS John S. McCain "traveled close to Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands, among a string of islets, reefs and shoals," Reuters reported.

In July, the USS Stethem, a guided-missile destroyer, sailed within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island in the South China Sea for the second "fonop."  The island itself is claimed by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam.

The U.S. is reportedly concerned that China's construction of artificial islands and build-up of military facilities in the South China Sea are meant to restrict nautical movement in the area. Reuters reported that $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes through the disputed trade route each year, and the Trump administration vowed to conduct more robust operations in the region in order to maintain these trade routes.

The maneuvers came at a time when the U.S. is trying to secure China's help with reining in communist North Korea. The U.S. and North Korea have been exchanging threats over North Korea's missile program.

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump said threats against the U.S. from North Korea would be met with "fire and fury like the world has never seen." 

North Korea's President Kim Jong Un's government responded by saying that any offensive move by the U.S. would result in a strike on Guam.

Chinese media have recently been highly critical of U.S. responses to North Korea and said that threats will accomplish little with the Kim regime, according to The Guardian.

Hu Xijin, editor of the Global Times, a nationalist Communist party-controlled tabloid, said that should it come to blows, the U.S. would likely lose more than North Korea would.

"A man with nothing to lose, doesn’t fear a man with something to lose," Hu said during a commentary video.

Meanwhile, Trump's threats reportedly angered Chinese President Xi Jinping. According to The Guardian, Xi has been trying to ratchet down tensions between the U.S. and North Korea.

Trump's threats of "fire and fury" came after China had lent its support for further sanctions against North Korea. China considered this a large concession to the U.S., the Guardian said.

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