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12 August 2017, 11:05 | Darnell Patrick
The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS John S. Mc Cain sailing in the waters off the Korean Peninsula
"McCain" illegally entered the waters near the reef and conducted a so-called "freedom of navigation operation" on Thursday without permission of the Chinese government, Xinhua quoted Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang as saying.
The operation occurred at an awkward and tense moment, amid the war of words between the United States and North Korea.
"We told them we are a usa [ship] conducting routine operations in worldwide waters".
China claims almost all of the sea, through which $5 trillion in annual shipping trade passes and which is believed to sit atop vast oil and gas deposits.
"And the point of that is to demonstrate that the United States will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever global law allows". On Sunday China scored a coup when ASEAN ministers issued a diluted statement on the dispute and agreed to its terms on talks at the Manila meeting.
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The Chinese navy "identified the US warship, warned and expelled it, " the spokesman said.
China's "nine-dash line" - its claimed territorial waters that extend hundreds of miles to the south and east of its island province of Hainan - abut its neighbors' claims and, in some cases, encroach upon them.
Attracted by the strategic military location and the prospect of oil, China, Taiwan, Brunei, the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam have all laid territorial claim to the Spratly's and have occupied several islands.
This comes as the Trump administration has called on China to do more to reign in North Korea's nuclear missile program.
The Defense Ministry said United States and Chinese military relations are generally "stable" but said such actions foster mistrust between the nations.
"The US provocation also forced the Chinese side to take measures to further enhance the national defense capability", the ministry added.
Chinese authorities claim 90 percent of the area and have repeatedly said that the country's activities in the region are China's sovereign right.
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