US to sail warships near disputed South China Sea islands: reports

Kerry: 'Serious Concerns' over South China Sea
Kerry: 'Serious Concerns' over South China Sea

The United States is expected to sail warships close to China's artificial islands in the South China Sea within the next two weeks to signal it does not recognize Chinese territorial claims over the area, media reports said.

The ships will sail within the 12-nautical-mile zones that China claims as territory around some of the islands it has constructed in the Spratly chain, the Financial Times and the Navy Times reported.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular news briefing on Thursday that China was paying attention to such reports, and that it and the United States have maintained "extremely thorough communication" on the South China Sea issue.

See the disputed waters in question:

"I believe the U.S. side is extremely clear about China's relevant principled stance," she said. "We hope the U.S. side can objectively and fairly view the current situation in the South China Sea, and with China, genuinely play a constructive role in safeguarding peace and stability in the South China Sea."

The White House declined to comment on potential classified naval operations. The U.S. State Department and Pentagon did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the report.

U.S. President Barack Obama said he told Chinese President Xi Jinping he had "significant concerns" about the islands when Xi made his first state visit to Washington late in September.

Xi said the islands were not being militarized, but Washington analysts and U.S. officials say the militarization already has begun, and the only question is how much military hardware China will install.

Admiral Harry Harris, commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, has said the development of the islands, including building a runway, was of "great concern" and a threat to the region.

China claims most of the South China Sea, where the Spratly islands are located and $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims.

(Reporting by Adam Rose in Beijing, Roberta Rampton and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Writing by Lisa Von Ahn; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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