The US military said two of its warships yesterday sailed near islands claimed by Taiwan and China in the South China Sea, prompting criticism from Beijing.
US guided-missile destroyers Preble and Chung Hoon sailed within 12 nautical miles (22.2km) of Gaven Reef (Nansyun Reef, 南薰礁) and Johnson Reef (called Chigua Reef, 赤瓜礁, by Beijing) in the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島), a US military spokesman told reporters.
Commander Clay Doss, a spokesman for the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet, said that the “innocent passage” was “to challenge excessive maritime claims and preserve access to the waterways as governed by international law.”
The US military has a long-standing position that its operations are carried out throughout the world, including in areas claimed by allies, and that they are separate from political considerations.
Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia also have competing claims in the region.
The Chinese navy asked the US vessels to leave after they entered waters claimed by Beijing, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
“The relevant actions of the US warships violated China’s sovereignty and undermined peace, security and good order in the relevant sea areas,” ministry spokesman Geng Shuang (耿爽) told a news briefing.
“The Chinese side expresses strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition” to the operation, Geng said, adding that the ships had entered “without permission.”
Air and sea forces were deployed to identify and ask the ships to leave, a spokesman for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s Southern Theater Command said on its microblogging account.
“The theater troops will maintain a high degree of alert and take all necessary measures to resolutely defend the sovereignty of the country and resolutely safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea,” said Li Huamin (李華敏), the military body’s spokesman.
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