Beijing has angrily rebuked the US for sending a warship close to militarised islands it controversially claims in the South China Sea.
The US and its allies regularly send planes and warships to the disputed territory on “freedom of navigation” operations. These are intended to send a clear message to Beijing that they have the right under international law to pass through the waters.
On Monday (November 24) the USS Chancellorsville guided missile destroyer entered waters off the Paracel Islands — known as Xisha in Chinese — said People’s Liberation Army spokesman Li Huamin in a statement today (Friday, November 30).
Chinese aircraft and warships were scrambled, issuing stern warnings that the American vessel should immediately leave the area.
“We urge the US to strengthen the management of its vessels and aircraft that pass by Chinese territory to prevent unexpected events,” Li said.
China has also lodged a diplomatic complaint with the US, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a press conference today, calling on the US to “immediately stop such provocative actions that violate China’s sovereignty”.
The Paracels are claimed by China, Taiwan and Vietnam.
Beijing has claimed nearly all of the South China Sea, even though the Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam also claim parts of it. In the case of the Philippines, a UN tribunal found in its favour in 2016 — a decision ignored by China and largely overlooked by the current administration in Manila.
Further angering those countries, and the US, Beijing has worked to shore up reefs into artificial islands capable of hosting military planes, missiles and other hardware.
South China Sea tensions
The USS Chancellorsville’s sail-by was the second US naval operation to anger China this week.
On Wednesday, two US ships sailed through the Taiwan Strait — another area of international waters unilaterally claimed by China — prompting a furious Beijing to send out warships and fighter jets.
This was the third such operation this year, including one last month in which a hostile Chinese warship steered within 45 yards of a US destroyer near the Spratly Islands.
The most recent naval tensions come ahead of talked between President Trump and China’s Xi Jinping at the G20 summit in Argentina this weekend.
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