Philippines says it told China of 'red lines' in sea feud

Foreign ministry expresses 'resolute opposition' to the US sail by in the disputed Paracel Island

A USA defense official said the two warships - USS Antietam and USS Higgins - had been conducting a "freedom of navigation" operation near the Paracel Islands.

The two ships passed within 12 miles of four islands - Tree, Lincoln, Triton and Woody - according to a United States defence official.

Last week China showed off the completion of an airstrip by flying bombers and other planes to the island base.

In the Paracel Islands, U.S. freedom of navigation operations have been created to protest China's prior notification requirements for innocent passage transits with 12 nautical miles of features and Beijing's straight baselines around the island group, which are illegal under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

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The U.S. military does not comment on the specifics of what it calls "freedom of navigation" exercises meant to assert the Navy's right to sail and operate in any zone deemed legal under worldwide law.

The Pentagon withdrew its invitation for China to participate in a multinational naval exercise the U.S.is hosting this summer, in what it called "an initial response" to China's militarization of the South China Sea.

USA officials accused Beijing of breaking a promise the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, made in 2015 when he said China did not intend to militarise the disputed territories.

Critics of the operations, known as a "freedom of navigation", have said that they have little impact on Chinese behaviour and are largely symbolic.

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The US Navy has pledged to continue regularly sending warships and jets to the South China Sea, openly defying China's accusations of violating its sovereignty.

China has been deploying serious military power to the region - including constructing manmade islands bristling with missiles.

It added that its presence in the South China Sea - which is disputed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam - was legitimate, and accused the U.S. of holding Cold War-style suspicions.

The foreign ministry issued a statement expressing "resolute opposition" to the USA sail-by of the territory in the disputed Paracel Island chain on Sunday. He said that the US Navy operated strictly within the worldwide rules, exercising the freedom of navigation.

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State-run news agency Xinhua said the two vessels were "expelled" from the waters.

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