Tokyo does not own Sea of Japan: China

North Korea war

North Korea war

It is the third time this year that USA ships traveled within 12 nautical miles of land claimed by China, the report said.

And with China putting pressure on Singapore to downplay the South China Sea issue, Storey said the city state would have its work cut out trying to keep everyone happy.

Japan worries that China's probing of its air defences is part of a push to extend its military influence in the East China Sea and western Pacific, where Japan controls an island chain stretching 1,400km south towards Taiwan. Yet China apparently still claims the nine-dash line or exclusive economic zones (EEZs) from the Spratly features it occupies and has threatened to use force to back its claim.

"According to the [Department of Foreign Affairs] they have already addressed this matter- that the area referred to is contested by both Vietnam and China, and not the Philippines", Abella said in a text message to CNN Philippines Thursday.

China's neighbors in the Pacific have feared that that the US's focus on North Korea may distract them from protecting freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, but a recent uptick in FONOPs from the USA may quell that fear.

On Thursday, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert was asked at a briefing whether "freedom of navigation" and other issues serve to "make for a more hard campaign on North Korea with China".

The US military has a long-standing position that its operations are carried out throughout the world, including in areas claimed by allies, and they are separate from political considerations.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano admitted on Tuesday that he did not want to include "land reclamation" and "militarization" in the South China Sea in the joint communiqué issued by the Asean foreign ministers.

"The Joint Communique reflected the recent developments which promote confidence-building and contribute to reducing tensions in the region, such as the adoption of the Framework of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea and the operationalization of the Foreign Ministry-to-Foreign Ministry Hotlines and application of the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea in the South China Sea", it added. Nicole Schwegman said all Navy operations "are conducted in accordance with global law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail, and operate wherever worldwide law allows".

"They called and said 'Please turn around, you are in our waters, '" the newspaper's source said.

Although China opposes inclusion of the sea disputes in worldwide conferences, partly to prevent the U.S. and other Western governments from intervening, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Japan's new top diplomat, Taro Kono, expressed concern over aggressive actions in the waters.

Its sweeping claims overlap with Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei - all ASEAN members - as well as Taiwan.

Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Chris Logan declined to comment on whether there had been a freedom of navigation sailing but he said the United States would continue to do such operations.

The Philippines had for many years stood alongside Vietnam as one of the strongest opponents to Chinese expansionism.

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