Chinese forces followed and warned away a US warship that entered waters near the Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands, 西沙群島) in the South China Sea, China’s military said yesterday, in the latest uptick in tensions in the disputed waterway.
The Southern Theatre Command of the People’s Liberation Army said the USS Benfold “illegally” sailed into Chinese territorial waters without permission, infringing upon the country’s sovereignty, and that Chinese naval and air forces tracked the ship.
“We solemnly demand that the US side immediately stop such provocative actions, otherwise it will bear the serious consequences of unforeseen events,” it added.
The US Navy rejected claim.
The Benfold was conducting what the navy called a freedom of navigation operation “in accordance with international law,” and “continued on to conduct normal operations in international waters,” 7th Fleet spokesman Mark Langford said in a statement.
The US frequently carries out “freedom of navigation” missions in the South China Sea to challenge Chinese territorial claims.
China has established military outposts on artificial islands in the waters, which include vital shipping lanes, and contain gas fields and rich fishing grounds.
The South China Sea has become one of many flashpoints in the testy relationship between China and the US, with Washington rejecting what it calls unlawful territorial claims by Beijing.
China claims vast swaths of the South China Sea. Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines all have overlapping claims.
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