Chinese defence ministry slams 'provocation' by USA warships in South China Sea

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has said China will cross a red line if it unilaterally mines the natural resources of the South China Sea according to the country's Foreign Minister Alan Peter Cayetano

The Chinese military dispatched naval vessels and aircraft "to conduct legal identification and verification of the US warships and warn them off", Wu said, according to a statement posted to the ministry's website.

The chief spokesman for China's Ministry of National Defense, Senior Col. Wu Qian, said the American military had "seriously violated China's sovereignty, [and] undermined strategic mutual trust".

China's military announced Sunday that it had despatched warships to challenge two US Navy vessels that sailed through waters in the South China Sea that China claims as its own.

The move prompted immediate criticism from the U.S., which last week pulled its invitation to China to join maritime exercises in the Pacific because of Beijing's "continued militarisation" of the South China Sea.

"We conduct routine and regular freedom of navigation operations, as we have done in the past and will continue to do so in the future", the US Pacific Fleet said in a statement.

According to the media reports, USS missile destroyer Higgins, and the missile cruiser USS Antietam had performed freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) near the Paracel Islands in the waters of the disputed South China Sea.

China has built seven artificial islands in the Spratlys group in the South China Sea and turned them into military outposts with airfields, radars, and missile defences.

China's claims in the South China Sea, through which about $5 trillion (3.75 trillion pounds) in shipborne trade passes each year, are contested by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

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China has been deploying serious military power to the region - including constructing manmade islands bristling with missiles.

The Paracel islands are part of a territorial dispute that China has with neighbouring countries.

In a separate statement, China's Foreign Ministry urged the United States to stop such actions.

Pentagon officials have long complained that China has not been candid enough about its rapid military build-up and using South China Sea islands to gather intelligence in the region.

China earlier this month landed bomber aircraft capable of carrying nuclear weapons on its main base at Woody Island in the Paracels.

The U.S. had included China in the past two versions of the naval exercise known as Rim of the Pacific, or RimPac, in 2014 and 2016.

China has accused Washington of viewing Beijing in "Cold War" terms.

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