China ‘expels trespassing’ US Navy destroyer from waters off Paracel Islands

Shi Jiangtao

China’s defence ministry said it “expelled” a US destroyer near the Paracel Islands on Friday, describing the American patrol in the disputed South China Sea as an “act of trespass”.

The US Navy’s guided missile destroyer USS Wayne E. Meyer sailed near the Paracels, known as the Xisha in China, “without the permission of the Chinese government”, according to Senior Colonel Li Huamin, spokesman for the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) Southern Theatre Command.

Li said the PLA Navy and Air Force shadowed, identified, monitored, warned and expelled the destroyer.

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“Ignoring international laws and rules, the US side has been practising ‘navigational hegemony’ in the South China Sea for a long time. Such actions have seriously undermined China’s sovereign interests, and proven the US side’s complete lack of sincerity in maintaining global peace as well as regional security and stability,” Li said.

“Our troops will [take] all necessary measures to resolutely defend national sovereignty and security and firmly safeguard the peace and stability in the South China Sea.”

Washington has stepped up its freedom of navigation operations in the contested waters in a bid to challenge Beijing’s expansive maritime claims.

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Commander Reann Mommsen, a spokeswoman for the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet, said the latest patrol was aimed at challenging China’s excessive claims around the Paracel Islands, which are also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam.

“China, Taiwan, and Vietnam each claim sovereignty over the Paracel Islands. All three claimants require either permission or advance notification before a foreign military vessel engages in ‘innocent passage’ through territorial seas,” Mommsen said.

“The unilateral imposition of any authorisation or notification requirement for innocent passage is not permitted by international law, so the United States challenged these requirements.”

She also said “the United States also again challenged China’s 1996 declaration of straight baselines encompassing the Paracel Islands”, referring to China’s claim to the islands and the nearby waters.

In addition to the Paracel patrols, the US Navy has made repeated passages through the Taiwan Strait, operations that together have exacerbated tensions between the two countries over a protracted trade war and a slew of geopolitical flashpoints.

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Washington has accused China of militarising the disputed waters, one of the world’s busiest waterways that is also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

After US President Donald Trump labelled China as America’s top rival in late 2017, Washington markedly increased its naval patrols in the region to help Southeast Asian nations counter China’s expansion.

Last month, the US warship sailed within 12 nautical miles of the contested Fiery Cross and Mischief reefs, China’s two biggest artificial islands in the disputed Spratlys. It was the first time an American warship had challenged two Chinese military outposts at once in a freedom of navigation operation.

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