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BEIJING — The U.S. is pledging to sail more warships past the shores of artificial islands in the South China Sea as the world’s most powerful military seeks to strip away the expansionist claims of China and other nations in waters crucial to the global movement of goods.
Early Tuesday morning, the guided-missile destroyer USS Lassen deliberately came within 12 nautical miles of Subi Reef, one of the places in the Spratly Islands that China has transformed into a sizable air and sea outpost from a reef that once vanished at high tide.
In so doing, the ship breached the exclusion zone that would apply to territorial waters and underscored the U.S. position that China cannot claim that exclusion around its manufactured lands. The move escalates the conflict over who controls a sea the size of India that constitutes the maritime heart of East Asia. It provoked an angry response from China, which dispatched a missile destroyer and a patrol boat to shadow and attempt to warn off the Lassen.
In Beijing, China summoned U.S. Ambassador Max Baucus over the patrol, which vice-foreign minister Zhang Yesui called “extremely irresponsible,” while other officials warned of a Chinese retaliation.
If Washington “keeps stirring things up and hyping up tension, then the Chinese side may have to arrive at one conclusion: that it is necessary for us to strengthen and speed up relevant construction activities,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang. “We hope the U.S. side will not take actions that will backfire.”
He said China “has indisputable sovereignty” over the Spratly Islands “and the adjacent waters.”
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