WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. warship carried out a "maneuvering drill" when it sailed within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island built up by China in the South China Sea, to show it was not entitled to a territorial sea around it, U.S. officials said on Thursday.
The operation, which took place near Mischief Reef on Thursday, Pacific time, among a string of islets, reefs and shoals over which China has disputes with its neighbours, was the boldest U.S. challenge yet to Chinese island-building in the strategic waterway. It drew an angry respose from Beijing.
Previous U.S. "freedom of navigation operations" in the Spratly archipelago have involved "innocent passage," in which a warship effectively recognises a 12-nautical-mile territorial sea by crossing it speedily, without stopping.
On Thursday, the destroyer USS Dewey conducted a "man overboard" exercise, specifically to show that its passage of the warship within 12 nautical miles was not innocent passage, U.S. officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"USS Dewey engaged in normal operations by conducting a manoeuvring drill inside 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef," one official said.
"The ship’s actions demonstrated that Mischief Reef is not entitled to its own territorial sea regardless of whether an artificial island has been built on top of it."
Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Idrees Ali; Editing by James Dalgleish