U.S. destroyers sail in disputed South China Sea amid trade tensions

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will lead the delegation

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will lead the delegation

Shortly after that operation, China accused the USA of trespassing in its territorial waters - and said it had deployed missiles "capable of targeting medium and large ships".

They will try to reach a trade deal before a March 1 deadline after which the U.S. has threatened to increase tariffs on US$200 billion worth of Chinese imports and risk retaliatory action from China.

A pair of Navy guided-missile destroyers have sailed within a dozen nautical miles of disputed islands China is believed to have militarized - a move that has angered some in Beijing.

She urged the USA to cease the "provocative actions".

"The US side will not fully remove the spectre of tariff hikes any time soon", Kuijs said, given that there is "broad support in the US for a hard stance on China". When asked if the Navy's move would affect the talks, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying called it "a series of USA tricks, "according to Reuters".

The Arleigh Burke destroyers Spruance and Preble on Monday conducted freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea "to challenge excessive maritime claims and preserve access to the waterways as governed by worldwide law", said Cmdr.

The spokesperson also demanded the USA stop what she called its "provocative actions", adding he country will take necessary actions to protect state sovereignty.

The operation was the US's latest attempt to counter what it sees as China's mission to limit freedom of navigation in the strategic waters where Chinese, Japanese and Southeast Asian navies operated.

Beijing asserts almost all of the South China Sea as its territorial waters, while Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam all claim parts. The operation was the second in the South China Sea reported by the US Navy this year.

An unnamed U.S. official told Reuters on Monday that the two destroyers conducted a freedom of navigation exercise - the second by the United States in the region this year - within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef, where Beijing has purportedly built military facilities.

During that operation, a Chinese destroyer came within 45 yards of the USA warship, forcing it to maneuver to avoid a collision.

"China has indisputable sovereignty over islands in the South China Sea, including the Second Thomas Shoal, Mischief Reef, and the adjacent waters", Hua claimed.

"All operations are designed in accordance with global law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail, and operate wherever worldwide law allows", said Doss.

Fears have grown in recent months that the US-China trade dispute is just one element in a bilateral relationship that is fast cooling across the board, with top US administration officials sharply criticising Beijing for everything from human rights abuses to cyber espionage in the United States.

The two countries are also at odds over regional security, including Washington's overtures to the self-ruled island of Taiwan, which China claims as its own.