US draws China’s ire with latest Navy transit through South China Sea
In a written statement Wednesday, China said its military had “driven away” a U.S. destroyer that sailed illegally into territorial waters near the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea the previous day, an accusation Washington swiftly pushed back on.
The U.S. Navy said the destroyer “asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the South China Sea near the Paracel Islands, consistent with international law.”
The U.S. military frequently conducts such “Freedom of Navigation” operations as part of a program China does not recognize, which allows U.S. military vessels to travel international waters.
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Southern Theater Command accused Washington of purposely stoking tensions by illegally entering its waters. The move “seriously violated China’s sovereignty” and undermined regional peace and stability, according to a Southern Theater Command spokesperson, Air Force Senior Colonel Tian Junli.
The Southern Theater Command “organized sea and air forces to follow, monitor, warn and drive away” the U.S. vessel.
Later on Wednesday, the Navy released a statement calling China’s claim’s “false,” and the “latest in a long string of PRC actions to misrepresent lawful U.S. maritime operations and assert its excessive and illegitimate maritime claims at the expense of its Southeastern Asian neighbors in the South China Sea.”
“The United States is defending every nation’s right to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows, as USS Benfold did here. Nothing the PRC says otherwise will deter us,” according to the statement.
The tit for tat comes as tensions between the U.S. and Chinese governments continue to simmer over Beijing’s increasing pressure campaign and threats against the independent Taiwan, which it sees as its own territory.
China is constantly involved in territorial disputes over the South China Sea, waters that carry roughly $3 trillion worth of vessel-moved trade cargo annually.
Beijing claims nearly the entire body of water and has built up artificial islands in some areas, though Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei also claim sections of the sea, sometimes overlapping.