U.S. destroyer sails in disputed South China Sea amid trade talks

The USS Wayne E. Meyer (DDG-108) Arleigh Burke-class Destroyer sits docked in San Diego, California, April 12, 2015. REUTERS/Louis Nastro - TM3EB4M1B1L01

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. Navy destroyer sailed near islands claimed by China in the South China Sea on Friday, the U.S. military said, a move likely to anger Beijing.

The busy waterway is one of a growing number of flashpoints in the U.S.-Chinese relationship, which include an escalating trade war, American sanctions on China’s military and U.S. relations with Taiwan.

Commander Reann Mommsen, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet, told Reuters that the destroyer Wayne E. Meyer challenged territorial claims in the operation, including what she described as excessive Chinese claims around the Paracel Islands, which are also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam.

“...China has attempted to claim more internal waters, territorial sea, exclusive economic zone, and continental shelf than it is entitled under international law,” Mommsen said.

China’s defense and foreign ministries did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The United States on Thursday welcomed China’s renewed purchases of U.S. farm goods while maintaining the threat of U.S. tariff hikes as the world’s two largest economies prepared the ground for talks aimed at breaking the logjam in their trade war.

China and the United States have traded barbs in the past over what Washington has said is Beijing’s militarisation of the South China Sea by building military installations on artificial islands and reefs in disputed waters.

China’s claims in the South China Sea, through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes each year, are contested by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Beijing says its construction is necessary for self-defense and that the United States is responsible for increasing tensions by sending warships and military planes close to islands that Beijing claims.

Reporting by Idrees Ali. Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Peter Graff