Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer the USS Wayne E. Meyer has sailed in close proximity of the China-claimed Fiery Cross and Mischief Reefs in the South China Sea as a part of its mission to "challenge excessive maritime claims and preserve access to the waterways", a spokeswoman for the Japan-based US Navy's Seventh Fleet was quoted as saying by Reuters.
This is not the first time that the US conducts so-called Freedom of Navigation Operations in the South China Sea, which is disputed by several Asian states, but mostly controlled by China. Beijing has repeatedly deplored Washington's operations there, calling them "provocations" and urging the US to cease them. The White House, in turn, accuses China of militarising the sea, despite Beijing insisting that installations and deployments on the islands are purely for defensive purposes.
At the same time, the destroyer's passage near the reefs comes on the same day as Reuters reported, citing an anonymous US source, that Beijing had denied an unnamed American destroyer entry to the port of Qingdao. A similar denial was given to two other US military vessels seeking to dock in Hong Kong amid clashes between opposition protesters clashes and police. Beijing has not commented on Reuters’ report.
Apart from "provocations" in the South China Sea and the denial of port entries, US-China ties have been largely overshadowed by an ongoing trade war, which was triggered by Washington in 2018 with the introduction of hefty tariffs on Chinese goods. The countries have since exchanged several rounds of sanctions, but failed to reach an agreement on a new trade deal to end the war.