China has lashed out at the United States and accused it of playing “political games” after the U.S. on Sunday sailed a warship close to a contested South China Sea island that is claimed by China, Vietnam and Taiwan.
The USS Stethem sailed within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island on Sunday, which is within the distance established by the United Nations as that which nations can use to establish the breadth of their territorial sea. With the United States sailing a destroyer inside that distance over the weekend, it has been viewed as a challenge to China’s perceived authority and claim there.
On Monday, China’s military said it would step up air and sea patrols following this “serious and political military provocation,” the Washington Post reported, while Chinese President Xi Jinping said “negative factors” now affect the relationship between China and the United States.
The U.S. guided-missile destroyer was dispatched by the Pentagon, officials told Fox News; the destroyer was reportedly tailed by a Chinese warship during the exercise. Fox News was first to report the incident on Sunday.
On Monday, the Chinese state-run Global Times said the U.S. was playing “political games,” and that such incidents as this one “would not stop Chinese construction work there,” according to Reuters.
“U.S. provocations cannot change the present situation in the South China Sea,” it said, Reuters reported.
The Trump Administration has reportedly been increasingly frustrated over China not cracking down on North Korea and its nuclear and ballistic missile threat as much as the United States would like.
Relations with China seemed to be on the rise after President Trump met with the Chinese president in April.
The Pentagon said this was a “Freedom of Navigation” operation, or FONOP, and that the U.S. wants to “challenge China’s claims with enough frequency in the hopes they become more routine and not as newsworthy,” officials with knowledge of such discussions said, according to Fox.
A spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Fleet, Lt. Cmdr. Matt Knight, did not confirm the operation to Fox but said: “We conduct routine and regular FONOPs, as we have done in the past and will continue to do in the future,” Fox reported.
Triton Island is located between China and Vietnam and is part of the Paracel Islands; China, Vietnam and Taiwan lay claim to the island. The U.S. Navy sailed a warship off the coast there in October, Fox reported, and the Obama Administration had done similar operations.
This is not the first time the United States has sailed near islands that China falsely claims as its own.
In May, the USS Dewey sailed less than 12 nautical miles from Mischief Reef, of the Spratly Islands, which are man-made islands claimed by Beijing.
The May incident was the first time something like this had happened under President Trump’s administration. Relations with China were supposedly on the rise, as the White House wants to ensure China’s cooperation on issues such as North Korea.