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International relations

US trades barbs with China after warships nearly collide

Chinese vessel's movements in South China Sea were 'unsafe': Navy official

The guided-missile destroyer USS Decatur operating in the South China Sea in 2016.   © Reuters

WASHINGTON -- A Chinese warship sailed within 40 meters of a U.S. Navy vessel in the South China Sea on Sunday, in what the U.S. Pacific Fleet said was an "unsafe and unprofessional maneuver."

Charles Brown, a spokesman for the Hawaii-based fleet, said the Chinese Luyang destroyer approached the U.S. Decatur near the disputed Spratly islands in the water.

"The PRC destroyer conducted a series of increasingly aggressive maneuvers accompanied by warnings for DECATUR to depart the area," he said by email, adding that the U.S. vessel maneuvered to avoid a collision.

The Chinese Defense Ministry said in a statement Tuesday that the U.S. ship ventured into Chinese waters and its navy sent a destroyer to force it to leave.

"The U.S. has been repeatedly sending warships to the islands and the adjacent waters in the South China Sea, which has seriously threatened China's sovereignty and safety," ministry spokesman Wu Qian said.

The incident comes as tensions mount on multiple fronts between Washington and Beijing.

China on Tuesday canceled high-level security talks with U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis. And last week, Trump claimed that China was working to interfere in November's mid-term elections.

The two nations are also locked in an escalating trade war.

Trump has dangled the threat of an additional $267 billion worth of levies against Chinese goods, as he has previously said, but sent mixed messages about whether the U.S. was ready to go back to talks.

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