U.S. guided missile destroyer USS John S. McCain sailed in the international waters of the South China Sea on Friday, drawing ire once again from China.
The U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet said the McCain was exercising “navigational rights and freedoms in the vicinity of the Paracel Islands” and the operation “demonstrated that these waters are beyond what China can lawfully claim as its territorial sea.”
Chinese military spokesman Col. Zhang Nandong called the incident “a naked navigational hegemony and military provocation,” and accused the U.S. of sending warships to “infringe upon China’s sovereignty and security interests, and severely undermine peace and stability in the South China Sea.”
Nandong claimed Chinese People’s Liberation Army tracked and monitored the U.S. warship with naval and air assets, and warned the ship to leave the area.
“We request the US to immediately stop such provocative actions and strictly control and restrict military operations in the sea and air to avoid accidents,” Nandong said. “China has indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and their adjacent waters.”
China has claimed South China Sea islands in its “Nine-Dashed Line” policy announced in 2009, despite these territories being located up to 1,000 nautical miles away from China’s coast. The islands China claims are also claimed by Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines, as the territories are in close proximity to these nations’ coastlines.
The U.S. officially rejected China’s “unlawful” South China Sea claims in July.
The official document by the U.S. State Department stated, “Beijing’s claims to offshore resources across most of the South China Sea are completely unlawful, as is its campaign of bullying to control them.”
“The PRC’s [People’s Republic of China] predatory world view has no place in the 21st century,” the document states. “The PRC has no legal grounds to unilaterally impose its will on the region.”
The U.S. has repeatedly denounced China’s militarization of artificial islands in the South China Sea, as well as its construction of military bases and other industrial facilities in the region, and aggressive behavior toward other nations’ ships in the region.
The U.S. also routinely sends warships to the South China Sea and other regions to conduct freedom of navigation operations.
The operation comes three years after McCain collided with an oil tanker near Singapore in August 2017, resulting in significant damage and flooding, and the deaths of 10 sailors and five more injured. The ship underwent repairs in 2018 and 2019, and left port for at-sea testing in October 2019. The ship was authorized to return to operations in June 2020.