The Chinese military claimed on Monday that its forces chased away a U.S. Navy ship sailing near Paracel Islands, a disputed piece of 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, said the U.S. Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold (DDG 65) trespassed into Chinese territorial waters, prompting Chinese naval and air forces of the PLA Southern Theater to track and monitor the U.S. warship and issue warnings for it to leave.
ABC News reported PLA officials claimed on their social media account 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, 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.”
While China claims control of the Paracel Islands, which it also calls the Xisha Islands, both the U.S. and U.N.’s International Court of Justice in the Hauge have both rejected China’s territorial claims. Reuters reported that 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 vowed to ignore the Hague’s ruling against its territorial claims.
On Monday, the U.S. Pacific Fleet issued a statement, asserting 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). The U.S. Navy statement said 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 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 comes a day after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated the July 2016 Hague decision denying China’s territorial claims on the Paracel Islands.
Blinken said, “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.