China said on Thursday that its armed forces had sent warships and planes to monitor and warn away a US guided missile destroyer from the South China Sea near the Paracel (Xisha) islands, the latest heated episode between the two nations in the disputed maritime territory.
The USS Benfold “illegally” went into Chinese national waters without authorization, infringing on the country’s sovereignty, according to the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) Southern Theatre Command, and Chinese navy and air forces monitored the ship before warning it away.
“The US side’s actions have seriously violated China’s sovereignty and security, which is yet another iron proof that it is pursuing navigational hegemony and militarizing the South China Sea,” stated the theatre command.
“We solemnly demand that the US side cease such provocative actions immediately, failing which it will bear the serious consequences of unforeseen events,” the statement continued. The vessel was not “warned” away, according to the US navy.
“The assertion made by the People’s Republic of China concerning this mission is untrue. The USS Benfold carried out the FONOP (freedom of navigation operation) in line with international law before returning to regular operations in international seas, according to 7th Fleet spokesperson Mark Langford in an emailed statement on Thursday.
The USS Benfold “…asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the vicinity of Paracel Island, consistent with international law,” according to Langford.
“USS Benfold exited the excessive claim at the conclusion of the operation and continued operations in the South China Sea,” Langford stated.
The US also conducts so-called freedom of navigation missions in the South China Sea to counter Chinese territorial claims, according to the statement.
China claims practically the entire South China Sea, although numerous maritime neighbors, notably the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and Indonesia, as well as Vietnam and Taiwan, contest this claim (which China says is a breakaway region).
China, Taiwan, and Vietnam all claim ownership over the Paracel Islands, also known in China as the Xisha Islands.
“The US challenged the unlawful restrictions imposed by the PRC, Taiwan, and Vietnam by engaging in innocent passage without notifying or asking permission from any of the claimants,” Langford said.
China has constructed and stationed military installations on artificial islands in the South China Sea, which is a major shipping corridor for international marine trade as well as a rich fishing ground.
Aside from Taiwan, commerce, and claimed rights violations in Xinjiang, the South China Sea has become one of several flashpoints in China-US relations.