The U.S. Navy has called the actions of Chinese warships “unprofessional” after they attempted to intercept U.S. warships that sailed in international waters near the Parcel Islands in the South China Sea this week.
The Chinese ships dispatched to confront the U.S. maneuvered erratically, but they did not pose a risk of collision.
China confirmed that it dispatched its warships in order to identify a pair of U.S. Navy vessels that had ventured close to one of the many disputed island chains claimed by Beijing in the South China Sea.
In a statement by the Chinese military, China said that the USS Higgins and Ticonderoga entered the waters near the Parcel Islands “without the permission of the Chinese government,” according to CBS.
China then “immediately dispatched warships to identify and inspect the American ships according to law, and warned them to depart.”
China regularly protests the U.S. Navy’s Freedom of Navigation Operations that allow U.S. ships to traverse through international waters in the South China Sea, one of the most important shipping passageways in the world.
The U.S. recently uninvited China from participating in Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC), a biennial naval exercise that includes more than two dozen nations.
China lays claim to dozens of disputed island chains in the South China Sea, with the Parcel Islands in particular having been seized by Vietnam in 1974. The islands have since been incorporated into the southern province of Hainan.
Some of the disputed island chains controlled by China are currently being developed for tourism. However, it was recently discovered that many others now house Chinese military equipment, including weapons systems and aircraft.
The U.S. has continually pressed China to stop escalating tensions in the region.
“We have consistently called on China, as well as other claimants, to refrain from further land reclamation, construction of new facilities and militarization of disputed features, and to commit to managing and resolving disputes peacefully with other claimants,” a Pentagon official told CNBC earlier this month. “The further militarization of outposts will only serve to raise tensions and create greater distrust among claimants.”
China claims that its increased military presence in the region is a means to increase security and bolster its defense.
“China has maintained that the construction of the islands is to ensure safety at sea, navigation assistance, search and rescue, fisheries protection and other nonmilitary functions, electronic jamming equipment is only for military use,” a U.S. Defense Department official told the Wall Street Journal.