|Arthur Dominic Villasanta |||Jun 13, 2017 10:38 PM EDT|
(Photo : US Navy) USS Sterett.
Less than a week after conducting a provocative freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) off the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, the U. S. Navy guided missile destroyer USS Sterett (DDG-104) docked today at Zhanjiang, China, headquarters of the South Sea Fleet of the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN).
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The Sterett on June 9 conducted the first "joint training mission" over the South China Sea involving a coordinated patrol by two Rockwell B-1B Lancer strategic heavy bombers of the U.S. Air Force and the navy.
The Sterett and USS Dewey (DDG-105) were together deployed to Asia last March. These destroyers comprise the Surface Action Group of the United StatesThird Fleet now operating in Asia.
On May 25, the Dewey sailed to within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef (Panganiban Reef to Filipinos) located in the Spratly Islands some 250 west of Palawan Island in The Philippines.
The navy said the USS Dewey carried out a "maneuvering drill" when it sailed within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef to show China it isn't entitled to a territorial sea around it, said U.S. officials.
The operation near Mischief Reef was the boldest U.S. challenge yet to Chinese island-building in the strategic waterway -- and apparently indicates the Trump administration's willingness to use military force against China.
The Sterett is in Zhanjiang for a port visit and low level interactions with the PLAN, said the United States Third Fleet.
"During the course of the port visit, sailors will conduct sporting events, ship tours, and a community relations event, along with leadership office calls and receptions with the PLAN," said a navy statement.
Sterett's port visit is the first visit of a U.S. Navy warship to Zhanjiang since 2015 and the first port visit by a U.S. ship to a mainland Chinese port this year.
"This visit is an exciting opportunity to promote maritime cooperation and reinforce a navy-to-navy relationship with our People's Liberation Army Navy counterparts," said Commander Claudine Caluori, Sterett's commanding officer.
The Third Fleet leads naval forces in the Pacific and constantly coordinates with the United States Seventh Fleet to plan and execute missions based on their complementary strengths to promote peace, security, and stability throughout the Pacific theater of operations.
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