The US military said one of its warships on Sunday sailed near the disputed Scarborough Shoal (Huangyan Island, 黃岩島) claimed by Taiwan and China in the South China Sea, a move likely to anger Beijing at a time of tense ties between the world’s two biggest economies.
The busy waterway is one of a growing number of flashpoints in the US-China relationship, which also includes a trade dispute, US sanctions and Taiwan.
The destroyer USS Preble carried out the operation, said Commander Clay Doss, a spokesman for the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet.
“Preble sailed within 12 nautical miles [22km] of Scarborough Reef in order to challenge excessive maritime claims and preserve access to the waterways as governed by international law,” Doss said.
Speaking in Beijing, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Lu Kang (陸慷) said the ship had entered waters near the shoal without China’s permission, and the Chinese navy had warned it to leave.
“I must stress once again that the US warship’s relevant actions have violated China’s sovereignty and undermined the peace, security and good order in the relevant sea areas. China is firmly opposed to this,” Lu told a daily news briefing.
The US was trying to disturb regional peace and stability by using the issue of freedom of navigation and flight, he added.
“We strongly urge the United States to immediately stop such provocative actions so as not to undermine Sino-US relations and regional peace and stability,” he said.
Li Huamin (李華敏), spokesman of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Southern Theater Command, said the PLA organized air and naval forces to warn the Preble to leave after it entered waters near Scarborough Shoal.
“The relevant actions from the US side endanger the safety of both Chinese and American ships and personnel, and undermine China’s sovereignty and safety,” Li said. “We express our resolute opposition.”
The Preble sail-by was the second such US military operation in the South China Sea in the past month, after two warships sailed by 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).
On Wednesday, the chief of the US Navy said its freedom of navigation movements in the sea drew more attention than they deserved.
China and Taiwan claims nearly all of the sea, although the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam also claim parts of it.
Additional reporting by AFP
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