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China freaks out over US Navy warship sailing legally in South China Sea

Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold (DDG 65), in South China Sea on Jan. 12, 2022. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Benjamin A. Lewis)
January 20, 2022

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) claims it warned away a United States warship that had “illegally” entered Chinese territorial waters, but the U.S. Navy denied receiving any warning from the Chinese military and added that the U.S. didn’t break any international laws.

According to Reuters, the Southern Theatre Command of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) said USS Benfold violated China’s sovereignty after it sailed into Chinese territorial waters near the Paracel Islands.

“We solemnly demand that the U.S. side immediately stop such provocative actions, otherwise it will bear the serious consequences of unforeseen events,” the PLA said.

The U.S. Navy confirmed the Benfold was in the area that raised China’s alarm, but denied that the ship had been warned away. The U.S. Navy also said the Benfold’s presence in the international waters was legal and demonstrated the service’s commitment to freedom of navigation.

“On Jan. 20, USS Benfold (DDG 65) asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the vicinity of the Paracel Islands, consistent with international law. At the conclusion of the operation, USS Benfold exited the excessive claim and continued operations in the South China Sea,” the U.S. 7th Fleet public affairs office said in a statement.

“The PRC’s statement about this mission is false. USS Benfold conducted this FONOP in accordance with international law and then continued on to conduct normal operations in international waters,” the statement later added in an update. “The operation reflects our commitment to uphold freedom of navigation and lawful uses of the sea as a principle. The United States is defending every nation’s right to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows, as USS Benfold did this week. Nothing PRC says otherwise will deter us.”

China has asserted several territorial claims in the South China Sea, though they are disputed by other nations situated in the region, including Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines.

Last month, Chinese H-6J bombers practiced bombing islands and laying underwater mines in a series of drills conducted in the South China Sea, according to a report from China’s state-run Global Times. The war drills appear to be a threatening message to the U.S. and Taiwan amid growing tension in the region.

The display of Chinese bomber capabilities comes as China has shown increasingly aggressive behavior in the South China Sea. Unnamed military analysts told Global Times the bomber drills could serve as a deterrence to foreign forces and “Taiwan secessionists,” of whom the analysts claimed have been making “provocations” in the region.