China has accused the United States of violating its sovereignty after a U.S. missile destroyer sailed near a disputed shoal in the South China Sea.

The USS Hopper sailed within 12 nautical miles (22 kilometers) of Huangyan Island, also known as Scarborough Shoal, on January 17.

China’s Defense Ministry said in a statement that a Chinese frigate “immediately took actions to identify and verify the U.S. ship and drove it away by warning.”  

China seized Huangyan from the Philippines in 2012.

China claims virtually the entire South China Sea and has carried out extensive land reclamation work on many of the islands and reefs it claims, equipping some with air strips and military installations.  

The South China Sea has crucial shipping lanes, rich fishing grounds and potential oil, gas and other mineral deposits.

While the U.S. has no territorial claims in the South China Sea and says it is neutral in the dispute, it has said it is concerned China is trying to militarize what should be free and open international waters.  About $3 trillion worth of goods pass through the area each year.  

The U.S. Navy regularly sails through the area to assert freedom of navigation.  

China says it wants to settle any territorial disputes over the South China Sea through bilateral negotiations.


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