The Chinese military has accused a U.S. warship of trespassing and violating Chinese sovereignty after the U.S. ship sailed near islands in the South China Sea that China claims as its territory but that the international community has rejected. The incident comes as China has been building up its naval forces to back up its territorial claims throughout the Indo-Pacific region and challenge U.S. dominance in the region.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet announced the guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville (CG 62) conducted a so-called freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) near the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. The U.S. 7th Fleet insisted the warship’s actions were asserted navigational rights and freedoms in line with international law.
The Chinese military, by contrast, accused the U.S. side of trespassing through its territorial waters. Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force Senior Colonel Tian Junli, the spokesperson for the Chinese military’s Southern Theater Command said “the USS Chancellorsville’s illegal behavior seriously violated China’s sovereignty and security.” Tian said the Chinese military organized air and naval forces to track, monitor and warn off the U.S. warship.
The Spratly Islands are part of a series of territorial claims the Chinese government has asserted throughout the South China Sea. In 2016, an international panel for the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) rejected China’s expansive maritime claims.
Despite this UNCLOS ruling, China continues to assert its territorial claims throughout a region of the Indo-Pacific commonly referred to as the nine-dash line. The Chinese side regularly claims the U.S. is violating its sovereignty by sailing through these areas of the Indo-Pacific that the UNCLOS panel determined China does not legitimately possess.
In his Tuesday statement, Tian said the USS Chancellorsville’s actions “served as a new irrefutable proof of the U.S. military’s practice of navigation hegemony and militarization of the South China Sea, which fully demonstrated that the U.S. is a complete risk-maker for the security of the South China Sea.”
The U.S. 7th Fleet rejected the complaints by the Chinese side, saying the PLA 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 Southeast Asian neighbors in the South China Sea.”
The Chinese military has repeatedly accused the U.S. Navy of trespassing into Chinese territorial waters during past U.S. FONOPs throughout the South China Sea.
This was a breaking news story. The details were periodically updated as more information became available.