Beijing sent a warship, fighter jets and a helicopter to chase off the Navy destroyer USS Chafee after it sailed close to disputed islands in the South China Sea.
The Chinese military claimed the USS Chafee, a guided-missile destroyer, had infringed on the country’s sovereignty and security with its ‘provocation’ as it passed the Paracel Islands.
The US operation was only the latest “freedom of navigation” patrol aimed at preventing China from limiting access to the strategic waters.
An angry China responded on Tuesday by dispatching its own navy and air force to warn the US ship to leave, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said today (Thursday, October 12).
Hua said: “The US vessel action violated Chinese laws and relevant international laws, undermined China’s sovereignty and security interests.
“China is firmly opposed to that and has lodged stern representations with the US.”
China’s defence ministry also said it would now further strengthen its naval and air defences.
If confirmed by the United States, it would be the fourth ‘freedom of navigation’ operation carried out by the US Navy this year.
A US defence spokesman said the operations were conducted in accordance with international law and “demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows”.
Lieutenant Colonel Chris Logan told Reuters: “We are continuing regular freedom of navigation patrols, as we have routinely done in the past and will continue to do in the future.”
The US Navy regularly carries out such operations to challenge China’s unilateral claims to the South China Sea, where Beijing has transformed reefs into artificial islands.
The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also claim territory in the sea.
However, Hua said: “The Chinese government will continue to safeguard its territorial sovereignty and maritime entitlements. We urge the US to respect Chinese sovereignty and security interests.”
The USS Chafee carried out normal manoeuvring operations among a string of disputed islets, reefs and shoals.
Next month, President Trump will make his first official visit to Asia, including a stop in China and the Philippines. Despite tensions over the South China Sea it is likely he will be seeking assistance from Beijing to rein in North Korea.