The Chinese military claimed on Monday that its naval forces chased away a U.S. Navy ship sailing close to the Paracel Islands, a disputed territory located in the South China Sea.
Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force (PLAAF) Snr. Col. Tian Junli, a spokesperson for the Chinese PLA Southern Theater Command, stated that the U.S. Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold (DDG 65) had trespassed into Chinese territorial waters, which prompted the Chinese naval and air forces to track and monitor the US warship and issue warnings for it to vacate the territory.
“The spokesperson stressed that China strongly condemns and firmly opposes this and urges the US side to stop provocations of this kind and strictly control its military activities in the air and at sea. "Otherwise, all consequences arising there from will be borne by the US side," the spokesperson warned.
ABC News reported PLA officials claimed on their social media that they “warned them and drove them away.”
The Chinese PLA spokesperson said, “The U.S. action seriously goes against the international law and basic norms governing international relations, which is yet another ironclad proof that the United States has been pursuing navigation hegemony and creating militarization of the South China Sea. Facts have proved that the U.S. is in every sense a ‘security risk maker in the South China Sea.'”
The PLA said that the Paracel Islands are “China’s inherent territory, and the U.S. military’s behavior has seriously violated China’s sovereignty and security, and gravely undermined the regional peace and stability of the South China Sea.”
China claims to control the Paracel Islands, known by the Chinese as the Xisha Islands, but the U.S. along with the UN’s International Court of Justice have both rejected China’s territorial claims.
According to a report by Reuters, on July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled that China had no historic title over the South China sea. The Chinese government pledged that they would ignore the Hague’s ruling against its territorial claims.
The U.S. Pacific Fleet issued a statement on Monday asserting the USS Benfold (DDG 65) had properly asserted its “navigational rights and freedoms in the vicinity of the Paracel Islands, consistent with international law,” and as part of a deliberate freedom of navigation operation (FONOP).
A statement by the U.S. Navy said that the FONOP challenged “unlawful restrictions on innocent passage imposed by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam and also by challenging China’s claim to strait baselines enclosing the Paracel Islands.”
“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,” the U.S. Navy said. “The United States challenges excessive maritime claims around the world regardless of the identity of the claimant. The international law of the sea as reflected in the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention provides for certain rights and freedoms and other lawful uses of the sea to all nations. The international community has an enduring role in preserving the freedom of the seas, which is critical to global security, stability, and prosperity.”
The U.S. FONOP came a day after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken repeated the July 2016 Hague decision on China’s claim to the Paracel Islands.
Blinken stated, “We call on the PRC to abide by its obligations under international law, cease its provocative behavior, and take steps to reassure the international community that it is committed to the rules-based maritime order that respects the rights of all countries, big and small.”