Beijing dispatched a warship to see off a US missile destroyer which it says has “violated” its sovereignty in the South China Sea.
The USS Hopper sailed within 12 nautical miles of Scarborough Shoal without alerting Beijing, the foreign ministry claimed today (Saturday, January 20).
Known by the Chinese as Huangyan Island, the ring of reefs lies about 120 miles off the Philippine coast and some 370 miles from China.
The US vessel “violated China’s sovereignty and security interests”, and put the safety of nearby Chinese vessels “under grave threat”, foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said.
His statement on the ministry’s website continued: “We hope that the US respects China’s sovereignty, respects the efforts by regional countries and do not make trouble out of nothing.”
China’s defence ministry said in a separate statement that a Chinese frigate “immediately took actions to identify and verify the US ship and drove it away by warning” it.
The USS Hopper recently entered the US Navy’s 7th Fleet area of operations, where the ship is on an “independent deployment”, according to a recent statement on the Navy’s website.
Its mission in Asia involves “security cooperation, building partner capacity, and performing routine operations within the area”.
News of the encounter follows yesterday’s release of a new US defence strategy that says America is facing “growing threats” from China and Russia.
China is a “strategic competitor using predatory economics to intimidate its neighbours while militarising features in the South China Sea”, the document says.
China’s defence ministry dismissed those claims on Saturday, saying “the situation in the South China Sea has steadily stabilised”.
However, the statement continued: “The United States has repeatedly sent warships illegally into the adjacent waters of the South China Sea islands and reefs.”
Beijing asserts sovereignty over almost all of the South China Sea despite rival claims from the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and others. In recent years it has been accused of militarising the waters by building artificial islands capable of hosting military facilities.
China seized Scarborough Shoal in 2012 after a brief stand-off with the Philippine navy. The shoal is also claimed by Taiwan.
The US does not claim territory in the South China Sea, but has declared it has a national interest in ensuring that the territorial disputes there are resolved peacefully in accordance with international law.
The Navy regularly sails through the area to assert freedom of navigation.