China on Monday asked the United States to stop “provocative actions”, a day after an American warship sailed near the Scarborough Shoal, which is a disputed territory in the South China Sea claimed by Beijing, Reuters reported. The actions of US destroyer Preble may lead to an escalation in tensions between the two countries at a time when they are embroiled in a trade war.

“Preble sailed within 12 nautical miles of Scarborough Reef in order to challenge excessive maritime claims and preserve access to the waterways as governed by international law,” Commander Clay Doss, the spokesperson for the US Seventh Fleet, told the news agency.

This is the second time in a month that the United States military has conducted an operation in the South China Sea. On May 15, the US Navy chief Admiral John Richardson had said the American military’s “freedom of navigation” exercises in the the South China Sea were attracting more interest than required.

Sunday’s operation was the latest attempt to counter what the United States believes is China’s efforts to curb freedom of navigating in the South China Sea. The Chinese claim ownership over most of the region demarcated by its “nine-dash line”. There are frequent disputes between China and the United States over naval operations in the regions. The two countries have often traded charges in the past over the territory as Washington accuses Beijing of militarising the South China Sea by placing military installations on artificial islands and reefs.

Other countries with claims

Apart from China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam have also staked claim to the region, and it has been used by the Japanese, and Southeast Asian navies.

In October 2018, United States military officials claimed that a Chinese warship had tried to steer its Navy vessel off course.

An international tribunal in The Hague ruled in favour of the Philippines in July 2016 and declared that China has no legal basis to claim “historic rights” over the area. The Permanent Court of Arbitration blamed Beijing for breaching the sovereign right of the Philippines.