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Washington on Tuesday called a third U.S. Navy maneuver in a disputed part of the South China Sea a robust stand on freedom of navigation. However, the fleeting sail-by fits an approach that some critics have called “minimalist” — one that could strengthen Beijing’s claims.

The USS William P. Lawrence guided-missile destroyer “exercised the right of innocent passage” while transiting within 12 nautical miles (22 km) of Fiery Cross Reef, a Chinese man-made islet that is claimed by the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam, Defense Department spokesman Cmdr. Bill Urban told The Japan Times in an emailed statement late Tuesday.

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