China claims to have ‘driven away’ US missile destroyer in South China Sea

·3-min read

A US Navy guided-missile destroyer carried out its “freedom of navigation exercise” near a disputed South China Sea island region on Wednesday, evoking an angry reaction from China.

Responding to the exercise, Beijing said it had “driven away” the ship after it illegally entered what it claims its territorial waters — the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.

Lt Nicholas Lingo, a spokesperson for the US Navy’s 7th Fleet headquartered in Japan, said that it was the second freedom of navigation operation in the Paracel Islands so far this year and the third targeting China’s “excessive maritime claims” in regional waters during the same period.

The People’s Liberation Army’s Southern Theatre Command said that it warned the US destroyer — the guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold— to leave its “territorial waters.”

“The actions of the US military have seriously violated China’s sovereignty and security, seriously undermined the peace and stability of the South China Sea, and seriously violated international law and norms of international relations,” PLA Air Force Col Tian Junli, spokesperson for the Southern Theatre Command, said in a statement.

But Mr Lingo maintained that the US destroyer “upheld the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea recognised in international law.”

His statement said that “unlawful and sweeping maritime claims in the South China Sea pose a serious threat to the freedom of the seas, including the freedoms of navigation and overflight, free trade and unimpeded commerce, and freedom of economic opportunity for the South China Sea littoral nations”.

“Under international law — the ships of all states, including their warships — enjoy the right of innocent passage through the territorial sea. The unilateral imposition of any authorisation or advance-notification requirement for innocent passage is unlawful,” the US Navy said in a statement.

China claims ownership of the Paracel Islands — a collection of 130 small coral islands and reefs in the northwestern part of the South China Sea. They lie about 250 miles east of central Vietnam and about 220 miles southeast of Hainan Island, China. The Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan also claim the region.

Meanwhile, PLA Southern Theatre Command “organised sea and air forces to follow, monitor, warn and drive away” the US Navy destroyer, the statement said.

“The facts once again show that the United States is nothing short of a security risk maker in the South China Sea and a destroyer of regional peace and stability,” China said.

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