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BEIJING — China has a message for President Donald Trump’s administration: The more ships the U.S. sends to the contested waters of the South China Sea, the more China will bolster its presence.

The warning, delivered in a People’s Daily commentary published Monday, came days after the USS Hopper sailed within 12 nautical miles of Scarborough Shoal, a reef China seized from Philippine control in 2012.

The United States called last week’s operations “routine and regular,” but from a Chinese perspective, both the timing and the location are significant.

This was the first so-called Freedom of Navigation Operation in months and the first such passage near the Scarborough Shoal. It also took place on the eve of the release of the National Defense Strategy — a document replete with warnings about China.

Over the weekend, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said Beijing was “strongly dissatisfied” with the Hopper’s passage and that China will stake necessary measures to “firmly safeguard its sovereignty.”

Monday’s editorial put it this way: “If the relevant party once more makes trouble out of nothing and causes tensions, then it will only cause China to reach this conclusion: to earnestly protect peace in the South China Sea, China must strengthen and speed up the building of its abilities there.”

China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, including Scarborough Shoal, a feature just off the coast of Luzon, not far from the former U.S. base at Subic Bay.

The Philippines, a longtime U.S. ally, used to control the shoal and has previously challenged Chinese claims to the South China Sea. But President Rodrigo Duterte has taken a softer line with Beijing after he came to power in 2016.

Duterte’s spokesman, Harry Roque, told Philippines media that the dispute was “America’s problem.”

Print Headline: Sea passes futile, China tells U.S.

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