U.S.' Mnuchin hopes for 'productive' trade meetings in China

An MH-60R Seahawk attached to the

Two U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyers sailed within 12 nautical miles of a disputed artificial island in the South China Sea on Monday, prompting "strong dissatisfaction" from China.

China has lashed out at the United States in the wake of another "freedom of navigation" exercise conducted by the U.S. Navy in the South China Sea, accusing Washington of undermining "peace" and "security". "It can't be ruled out that the USA would extend the deadline, but still, it's too early to predict anything".

Monday's sail-by is the second U.S. freedom-of-navigation operation in the South China Sea this year.

One stumbling block is how such a deal could be made enforceable, according to USA officials.

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

Doss added: "We conduct routine and regular Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPS), as we have done in the past and will continue to in the future".

Doss said FONOPS "are not about any one country, nor are they about making political statements".

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An airstrip, structures, and buildings on China's man-made Subi Reef in the Spratly chain of islands in the South China Sea. The official said Monday's operation focused on Mischief Reef, a location claimed by China, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Navy spokesman Commander Clay Doss told USA media: "All operations are designed in accordance with global law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever worldwide law allows".

But Hua slammed the US, arguing that "China has indisputable sovereignty over islands in the South China Sea, including the Second Thomas Shoal, Mischief Reef, and the adjacent waters".

With less than a month before a March 1 deadline for either a deal or an increase in US tariffs, hardliners inside and outside the administration have expressed concern Trump is being outplayed by Chinese President Xi Jinping and seduced by what they see as empty promises.

The operation came as the Trump administration has prepared for another round of trade talks with the Chinese government.

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that he could see letting the March 1 deadline for reaching a trade agreement with China slide a little, but that he would prefer not to and expects to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping to close the deal at some point.

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