Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville. Photo: US Navy via AFP

The Pentagon told media outlets on Thursday that US warships earlier this week sailed near China-controlled islands in the South China Sea, prompting a swift rebuke from China as the two countries’ leaders prepare for a high-stakes meeting on Saturday at the G20 summit.

“USS Chancellorsville sailed near the Paracel islands to challenge excessive maritime claims and preserve access to the waterways as governed by international law,” US Navy spokesman Commander Nathan Christensen said in a statement, according to CNN.

In response, China’s foreign ministry said it has lodged “solemn representations.”

Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the move violated Chinese and international law and demanded that the US “immediately stop such provocations that infringe upon China’s sovereignty.”

People’s Liberation Army spokesman Li Huimin said: “we urge the US to strengthen the management of its vessels and aircraft that pass by Chinese territory to prevent unexpected events.”

Despite China’s persistent protest, the US contends the operations are not a violation of international law, as the statement on Friday reiterated.

“US Forces operate in the Indo-Pacific region on a daily basis, including the South China Sea. All operations are designed in accordance with international law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows,” Christensen said.

Meanwhile, the US and Chinese presidents are scheduled to meet over dinner along with trade delegations in Argentina on Saturday in hopes of deescalating trade tensions. There is little clarity on the prospects for making a breakthrough, though seemingly intractable disagreements on trade issues loom over the meeting.

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