China’s military has said it drove away a United States naval ship that “illegally intruded” into waters near the Spratly Islands in the disputed South China Sea.
“The actions of the US military seriously violated China’s sovereignty and security,” said Tian Junli, spokesman for the Southern Theater Command of the People’s Liberation Army.
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The US Navy’s 7th Fleet said the USS Chancellorsville, a guided missile cruiser, had conducted a “freedom of navigation operation in accordance with international law” and described the statement from the Chinese as “false”. The ship had recently sailed through the Taiwan Strait in a similar exercise.
“The PLA Southern Theater Command’s statement is the latest in a long string of PRC actions to misrepresent lawful U.S. maritime operations and assert its excessive and illegitimate maritime claims at the expense of its Southeast Asian neighbors in the South China Sea,” the 7th Fleet said in a statement, referring to China by its formal name.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea under a nine-dash line that an international court ruled in 2016 had no merit. It has ignored that decision, instead building artificial islands and expanding military activities in the sea, which is also claimed by the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan.
Tian accused the US of being a “security risk maker” in the area, claiming the sailing by the USS Chancellorsville was “another iron-clad proof of its hegemony in the navigation and militarization of the South China Sea”.
The Southern Theater Command said on its WeChat social media account that Chinese troops would remain on “high alert”.
The US has rejected China’s expansive claims in the resource-rich waters.
It has sent a number of warships through the South China Sea in recent years in what it calls “freedom of navigation” exercises, and also expressed support for an agreement on a binding code of conduct and other confidence-building measures.
On a visit last week to Palawan on the edge of the disputed waters, Vice President Kamala Harris said the US would push for an international campaign against “irresponsible behaviour” in the South China Sea.
“We must stand up for principles such as respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, unimpeded lawful commerce, the peaceful resolution of disputes, and the freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea, and throughout the Indo-Pacific,” she said in a speech.
China’s artificial islands include at least seven outposts in the Spratlys, where it has built ports, military installations and airstrips.