The Chinese military claimed on Thursday that it tracked a U.S. destroyer in its territorial waters and drove it away, which the U.S. has said is false as tensions between the countries escalate.
The incident is supposed to have happened in the South China Sea near the Paracel Islands, a sensitive archipelago claimed by multiple countries, the Associated Press reported.
The USS Milius, a guided missile destroyer, “illegally entered” waters near the islands, “undermining peace and stability in the South China Sea,” according to a spokesperson for China’s Southern Theater Command, Col. Tian Junli. It is not clear exactly when that allegedly occurred.
Tian said that China’s navy and air force drove away “the U.S. warship in accordance with the law.” He said forces in the region will “maintain a state of high alert at all times and take all necessary measures to resolutely safeguard national sovereignty.”
In response to an AP request for comment, U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet called the allegations “false” but did not confirm whether the ship had been near the islands or if there had been a confrontation.
“USS Milius is conducting routine operations in the South China Sea and was not expelled,” said spokesperson Lt. j.g. Luka Bakic, adding: “The United States will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows.”
The South China Sea is a key waterway for global trade, and its waters and islands have long been claimed by multiple Asian countries. The Paracel Islands, situated near good fishing grounds and potential oil and gas resources, are claimed by China, Taiwan and Vietnam, according to the Central Intelligence Agency.
China has occupied the archipelago since 1974 and has built 20 outposts on the islands, according to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative. The largest, Woody Island, now hosts a population of 1,000 and features an airstrip, fighter jet hangars, naval facilities, radars, and anti-air and anti-ship defenses, according to the CIA.
Asked about the USS Milius incident during a press briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said the military “conducted whole-process tracking and monitoring on the U.S. destroyer in accordance with the law, and warned it off.”
“The US should immediately stop such infringement and provocation,” he said. “China will continue to take all necessary measures to resolutely safeguard the nation’s sovereignty and security, and safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea.”