U.S. destroyer in South China Sea called 'provocation' by Beijing

Philippines offers North Korea ASEAN partner status

The United States and its regional allies have accused Beijing of inflaming tensions in the South China Sea by expanding islands and reefs into military installations, refusing multilateral negotiations over overlapping territorial claims and spurning a ruling previous year from an worldwide tribunal that rejected the legality of China's claims to much of the sea.

A US Navy destroyer recently sailed near Mischief Reef in the disputed South China Sea in a freedom of navigation operation.

Chinese defense ministry spokesman Wu Qian said the situation in the South China Sea has "stabilized" due to the "joint efforts" of China and neighbouring countries but the USA operation threatened "peace and stability in the region".

The United States has criticized China's construction of islands and build-up of military facilities in the sea, and is concerned they could be used to restrict free nautical movement.

"Certain external forces are swimming against the current and continuing to stir up trouble under the pretext of "freedom of navigation, '" Mr. Geng said". The ASEAN nations, in their final joint communiqué, agreed to go along with China's call for non-confrontational settlement of disputes in the South China Sea.

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis issued a stark warning to North Korea on Wednesday, telling Pyongyang that it should stop any actions that would lead to the "end of its regime and the destruction of its people".

Mabini (Johnson) Reef part of the disputed islands China has built up in the South China Sea.

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Today's operation will likely complicate Donald Trump's hopes to persuade China to help rein in North Korea's nuclear programmes. He is the author of "Asia's New Battlefield: U.S., China and the Struggle for the Western Pacific", and the forthcoming book "Rise of Duterte".

The US has maintained that the South China Sea is worldwide water, and that sovereignty in the area should be determined by the UNCLOS.

China has indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and their adjacent waters, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang reiterated on Thursday.

In the latest sail-by, US military officials notified Philippine counterparts of the maneuver, a Philippine official said, adding that Philippine forces were not involved.

U.S., Japan and Australia urged China and the Philippines to abide by last year's The Hague arbitration ruling, which invalidated China's claim to nearly the entire South China Sea, where more than $3 trillion worth of goods pass each year.

The US official said the interactions were all "safe and professional", with the operation of the USS McCain lasting about six hours from start to finish. The huge area China claims is home to significant energy deposits and the world's busiest shipping routes, but Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also assert sovereign rights over parts of the global waterway. Yet China apparently still claims the nine-dash line or exclusive economic zones (EEZs) from the Spratly features it occupies and has threatened to use force to back its claim.

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