Chinese military officials falsely claimed that their forces had driven off a U.S. warship that sailed near the disputed Paracel Islands (also known as the Xisha Islands) on Wednesday. The U.S. Navy quickly dispelled the false claims, pointing out that U.S. warships were conducting routine operations in international waters.
Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) Senior Colonel Tian Junli, the spokesperson for the Chinese PLA Southern Theater Command, said, “On July 13, the guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold (DDG-65) trespassed into China’s territorial waters off Xisha Islands without Chinese government’s permission. The Chinese PLA Southern Theater Command organized naval and air forces to conduct tracking and monitoring on the US destroyer and warned it off.”
Tian said, “Facts have once again proved that the U.S. is nothing but a ‘security risk maker in the South China Sea’ and a ‘destroyer of regional peace and stability.'”
The U.S. 7th Fleet was quick to dispute the Chinese military’s claims about chasing away USS Benfold.
“The [People’s Republic of China’s] statement about this mission is false,” the 7th Fleet statement read. “USS Benfold conducted this [freedom of navigation operation] in accordance with international law and then continued on to conduct normal operations in international waters. 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 here. Nothing the PRC says otherwise will deter us.”
USS Benfold’s actions on Wednesday were part of a broader set of U.S. operations being carried out in the South China Sea by the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group. The strike group is conducting maritime security operations maritime strike exercises and coordinated tactical training between surface and air units according to a separate 7th Fleet statement.
The U.S. has rejected Chinese maritime territorial claims throughout the South China Sea and, in a January report, declared China’s maritime claims to be in violation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). UNCLOS serves a framework for delineating maritime territorial claims. UNCLOS considers the 12 nautical miles extending out from the straight baseline of a country to be a part of that country’s territorial waters, while the 200 nautical miles extending beyond that are part of that country’s exclusive economic zone, but which ships from other nation’s may pass through.
“The PLA Southern Theater Command’s statement is the latest in a long string of PRC actions to misrepresent lawful U.S. maritime operations and assert its excessive and illegitimate maritime claims at the expense of its Southeastern Asian neighbors in the South China Sea,” the 7th Fleet said.