Two US warships sailed near islands claimed by China in the South China Sea on Monday, a US official told Reuters, a move likely to anger Beijing at a time of tense relations between the world’s two biggest economies. Beijing and Washington are locked in a trade war and the two sides are trying to hammer out a deal ahead of a March 1 deadline when US tariffs on $200bn worth of Chinese imports are scheduled to increase to 25% from 10%. Escalating tensions between the US and China have cost both countries billions of dollars and roiled global financial markets. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the two guided-missile destroyers travelled within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands. The operation was the latest attempt to counter what Washington sees as Beijing’s efforts to limit freedom of navigation in the strategic waters, where Chinese, Japanese and some Southeast Asian navies operate. China claims almost all of the strategic South...

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