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China ‘ship-killer’ missile at ready as US destroyers sail by disputed Spratly Islands again

The guided-missile cruiser USS Spruance (DDG 111) transits the Arabian Gulf, Jan. 18, 2019. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Nick Bauer)
February 11, 2019

Two U.S. warships conducted operations in the South China Sea that again raised the ire of China, who deployed missiles capable of reaching the region just last month.

USS Spruance and USS Preble conducted a Freedom of Navigation operation (FONOP) in the contested waters, during which they traveled within 12 nautical miles of the Spratly Islands late Sunday night, the first time after China deployed ship-killing missiles in January, according to CNN on Monday.

In January, the USS McCampbell traveled near the Paracel Islands, coming within 12 nautical miles of its coast. PLA Navy ships responded to the USS McCampbell to identify it and issue a warning to leave.

Chinese officials called the first incident a “provocation” by the U.S., and a violation of both Chinese and international laws.

“The Chinese side firmly opposes the relevant action by the U.S. side and urges the U.S. to immediately stop such provocations,” Lu Kang, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, said in January. “We will continue to take necessary measures to safeguard our national sovereignty and security.”

The following day, China announced it was mobilizing its DF-26 ballistic missile, which is deemed the “carrier killer” for its ability to target medium and large ships at a range of 3,000 to 4,000 kilometers – anywhere in the South China Sea.

Just two weeks ago, China conducted a live fire test of two DF-26 missiles, an act some saw as a warning to the U.S.

Although the South China Sea is considered international waters, China claims nearly all of the waters and has militarized the islands within it.

The latest incident is the second FONOP the U.S. has conducted in the South China Sea so far this year.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy confronted the warships to demand the U.S. “immediately stop its provocative actions,” the South China Morning Post reported.

“The relevant actions of the U.S. warships violated Chinese sovereignty, and undermined peace, security and order in the relevant sea areas,” Hua said. “The Chinese side expresses strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition.”

“China has indisputable sovereignty over islands in the South China Sea, including the Second Thomas Shoal, Mischief Reef, and the adjacent waters,” Hua added.

China claims to respect the free navigation in neutral waters and abide by international laws, but say its opposition lies in exploiting these laws to challenge the sovereignty or safety of the neighboring countries.

Cmdr. Clay Doss, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet, told CNN that the mission was intended “to challenge excessive maritime claims and preserve access to the waterways as governed by international law.”

“All operations are designed in accordance with international law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows,” Doss said, adding “that is true in the South China Sea as in other places around the globe.”