China said it was “displeased” after a US warship sailed close to one of its artificial islands in the South China Sea as part of a “freedom of navigation” operation.
The USS John S McCain guided-missile destroyer sailed within six nautical miles of Mischief Reef, part of the Spratly Islands, which are also subject to claims by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
A US Navy official said a Chinese frigate sent radio warnings at least 10 times to the USS McCain.
“They called and said ‘Please turn around, you are in our waters,’” he said.
“We told them we are a US ship conducting routine operations in international waters.”
The official said the interactions were all “safe and professional”, with the operation lasting about six hours.
China’s foreign ministry said: “The US destroyer’s actions have violated Chinese and international laws, as well as severely harmed China’s sovereignty and security.
“China is very displeased with this and will bring up the issue with the US side.”
When questioned about the operation at a Malacañang press briefing today (Friday, August 11), presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the Philippine government did not object to the US destroyer’s operation.
“In the words of Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, the Philippines has no objection regarding that presumed innocent passage of sea craft, okay? And that there is this freedom of navigation,” he said.
“In other words, from our side, we find no objection. We don’t find it objectionable.”
The freedom of navigation operation was bound to annoy Beijing and was the third of its kind carried out by the US since President Trump took office.
It comes amid soaring tensions on the Korean Peninsula over Kim Jong-un’s missile programme, and as the UN is urging China to increase pressure on North Korea.
Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Chris Logan declined to comment on whether there had been a freedom of navigation operation, but said: “All operations are conducted in accordance with international law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows.”