The Chinese military said on Thursday that its radars picked up a U.S. warship sailing through the South China Sea, accusing the Navy of “provocative actions” and warned of “serious consequences.”
China claims almost all 1.3 million square miles of these waters as its sovereign territory and reacted angrily at the passing of the American ship.
The Pentagon denied wrongdoing and said the mission did not violate international maritime laws and was conducted in line with its commitment to defend “every nation’s right to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows,” adding that “Nothing PRC [People’s Republic of China] says otherwise will deter us.”
During a press briefing, a spokesperson for the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) south command center said the spotted ship was identified as the USS Benfold – a guided-missile destroyer that had “illegally entered China’s Xisha territorial waters without the approval of the Chinese government.”
The spokesperson, identified as Coronel Tian Junli, said China’s navy and air forces were engaged to track and monitor the ship’s path in order to give an “eviction warning” to the U.S. Navy.
“We solemnly demand that the US side immediately stop such provocative actions, otherwise it will bear the serious consequences of unforeseen events,” a statement released by the PLA read.
“What the US has done seriously infringes on China’s sovereignty and security, and is yet another piece of hard evidence that it is pursuing maritime hegemony and militarizing the South China Sea. Facts fully prove that the US is a ‘risk-maker’ in the South China Sea and the ‘biggest destroyer’ of peace and stability in the South China Sea,” the statement added.
The South China Sea, which is crossed by vital shipping lanes everyday and is also home to gas fields and rich fishing grounds, is a significant source of tension between China and its regional neighbors, as well as the U.S.
In addition, the Xisha Islands, also known as the Paracels, are a chain of 130 coral islands and reefs heavily disputed within the South China Sea. Although China, Vietnam and Taiwan all claim sovereignty over these islands, the Chinese government has held practical control for the past 46 years.
Asserting Dominance: China Setting Up Antennas Over the South China Sea
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China has also established military infrastructure on the islands, which “plays a key role in China’s goal of establishing surveillance and power projection capabilities throughout the South China Sea,” according to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative.
Japan conducts free navigation in South China Sea
On Jan. 10, Radio Free Asia reported that the Japanese navy was conducting its own “freedom of navigation operations” in the South China Sea in order to “to warn China,” but doing so in a cautious manner.
The Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan’s largest newsletter, reported that unnamed government sources said Japanese ships had “sailed through waters near the artificial islands and reefs claimed by China in the South China Sea” on at least two occasions in March and August of last year.
“The Maritime Self-Defense Force (Japanese Navy) operations started in March 2021 under the administration of then-Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga,” it said.
A Japanese senior Defense Ministry official also told the paper that the operations were “meant to warn China, which is distorting international law, to protect freedom of navigation, and the law and order of the sea.”