China sends warships to ward off US freedom of navigation patrol

The guided missile cruiser USS Antietam which, along with guided-missile destroyer USS Higgins, sailed within 12 nautical miles of the Paracel Islands

China sent warships to ward off US Navy ships sailing in the South China Sea, the country’s Ministry of Defence has announced.

The guided missile cruiser USS Antietam and guided-missile destroyer USS Higgins sailed within 12 nautical miles of the Paracel Islands, according to a report by The New York Times.

The US warships, which were conducting a freedom of navigation patrol, passed within 12 miles of four islands— Tree, Lincoln, Triton and Woody.

In a statement yesterday (Sunday, May 27), Chinese Ministry of National Defence spokesman Wu Qian said the two US warships entered its territorial waters without permission.

“The United States once again dispatched warships to enter the territorial waters of the Xisha Islands without authorisation and violated China’s and relevant international laws,” Wu said.

Beijing stressed that the Paracel Islands, which are also claimed by Vietnam, are “Chinese indigenous territory”.

Wu accused also of violating Beijing’s sovereignty and undermining strategic mutual trust between the American and Chinese military.

“China firmly opposes this. The Chinese army is determined to strengthen the preparations for sea and air combat readiness, raise the level of defence, defend national sovereignty and and maintain the determination of regional peace and stability,” Wu said.

The US Navy’s freedom of navigation patrol came days after the US disinvited China from the 2018 Rim of the Pacific Exercise, the world’s largest international maritime warfare exercise.

The Pentagon’s withdrawal of its invitation to Beijing was an “initial response” to the country’s increasing militarisation of the South China Sea.

As we reported recently, China’s Air Force announced that it had landed a nuclear-capable bomber on Woody Island — potentially putting all the Philippines within range of attack.

Shortly after this, China reportedly deployed surface to air missile systems on the island, according to Washington-based think tank Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative.

According to its analysis, the new weapons were probably placed on the outposts during Chinese military drills on May 8.