US Navy’s South China Sea patrol angers Beijing smarting over trade war

File photograph of the USS Treble on patrol. US Navy picture.

A US Navy patrol through the South China Sea has been slammed by a Beijing already smarting over mounting trade tensions.

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) scrambled air and naval forces to warn off the guided-missile destroyer USS Preble after it entered waters within 12 nautical miles of Scarborough Shoal today (Monday, May 20).


China “effectively controls” the shoal as it has constantly maintained a coast guard presence there since 2012. However, this claim was undermined by the ruling of a UN-backed court in 2016, which refused to recognise Beijing’s sweeping claims to the disputed waters.

“The relevant actions from the US side endanger the safety of both Chinese and American ships and personnel, and undermine China’s sovereignty and safety,” said Li Huamin, spokesman of the PLA’s Southern Theatre Command.

“We express our resolute opposition.”


The latest US ‘freedom of navigation patrol’ comes as both countries adopt toughening stances on a host of economic and diplomatic issues.

Earlier this month, President Trump hiked tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese goods, with China announcing it would raise tariffs worth $60 billion in return.

As we reported yesterday, security concerns over the entry of state-owned Huawei into western telecommunication networks is also stoking frustration in Beijing.

Beijing has built artificial islands and military installations in the disputed waters, parts of which are also claimed by the Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam.

Today’s US Navy patrol — the third this month alone — is intended to “challenge excessive maritime claims and preserve access to the waterways as governed by international law,” 7th Fleet spokesman Lieutenant Joe Keiley said in a statement.

“All operations are designed in accordance with international law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows. FONOPS [Freedom of Navigation Operations] are not about any one country, nor are they about making political statements.”

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