China warns US missile destroyer in South China Sea
China on Thursday said its armed forces deployed warships and aircraft to monitor and warn away a US guided missile destroyer from waters near the Paracel (Xisha) islands in the South China Sea, the latest tense incident between the two countries in the disputed maritime region.
The US warship USS Benfold “illegally” sailed into Chinese territorial waters without permission, violating the country’s sovereignty, and that Chinese naval and air forces tracked the ship before warning it away, the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) Southern Theatre Command said.
“The actions of the US side have seriously violated China’s sovereignty and security, which is another iron proof that it is pursuing navigational hegemony and militarising the South China Sea,” the theatre command said.
“We solemnly demand that the US side immediately stop such provocative actions, otherwise it will bear the serious consequences of unforeseen events,” it added.
The US navy denied that the warship was “warned” away.
“The People’s Republic of China’s statement about this mission is false. USS Benfold conducted this FONOP (freedom of navigation operation) in accordance with international law and then continued on to conduct normal operations in international waters,” the 7th Fleet spokesperson Mark Langford said in an emailed statement on Thursday.
In an earlier statement, Langford said that USS Benfold “…asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the vicinity of the Paracel Island, consistent with international law”.
“At the conclusion of the operation, USS Benfold exited the excessive claim and continued operations in the South China Sea,” Langford added.
The US, the statement added, carries out what it calls freedom of navigation missions in the South China Sea to challenge Chinese territorial claims.
China claims nearly the entire South China Sea but that claim is disputed by several maritime neighbours including Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia besides Vietnam and Taiwan (which China says is a breakaway region).
Specifically, China, Taiwan and Vietnam claim sovereignty over the Paracel islands, known as Xisha islands in China.
“By engaging in innocent passage without giving prior notification to or asking permission from any of the claimants, the US challenged the unlawful restrictions imposed by the PRC, Taiwan, and Vietnam,” Langford said.
China has built and established military outposts on artificial islands in the South China Sea, a vital shipping lane for international maritime trade besides containing gas fields and rich fishing grounds.
The South China Sea has become one of many flashpoints in the relationship between China and the US besides Taiwan, trade and alleged rights abuses in Xinjiang.