Beijing claims it has warned a US destroyer in South China Sea after missile launch
China says it has warned off a US guided-missile destroyer in the South China Sea which was deployed to the disputed waters after a Chinese missile launch in the latest of a series of escalating tensions in the region.
The Chinese military said the destroyer sailed into “China’s territorial waters” near the islands, called the Xisha by China, and the PLA Southern Theatre Command had dispatched naval and air forces and “expelled” the US Navy ship.
“China has indisputable sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and their adjacent waters in the region, and the command troops are always on high alert to resolutely protect national sovereignty and safeguard peace and stability in the region of the South China Sea”, PLA spokesman Senior Colonel Li Huamin said early on Friday.
According to a statement from the US Pacific Fleet, the USS Mustin (DDG-89) sailed into “the vicinity of the Paracel Islands” on Thursday “to contest excessive maritime claims and reinforce laws of the sea in international waters”. The deployment was also intended to “ensure critical shipping lanes in the area remain free and open”, it said.
The US deployment followed China’s launch of its Dongfeng missiles – including an “aircraft-carrier killer” – into the South China Sea on Wednesday morning, as reported exclusively by the South China Morning Post.
China has been conducting military drills almost simultaneously in four sea regions, a rare move seen by experts as designed to signal its readiness to handle a confrontation with the US and self-ruled Taiwan. An exercise has been ongoing east of the southern Chinese island province of Hainan, which has been restricted to non-military access from Monday until Saturday.
At the same time, the US has also stepped up its military presence, holding drills with Japan and South Korea in the past two weeks.
Taiwan and Asean member states the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei all have competing claims in the resource-rich waters, while China claims almost all of the region. The US has no territorial interest in the disputed waters but has deployed warships and aircraft it says are intended to promote freedom of navigation.
Washington last month called China’s claims to the waterway – which is used to move US$3 trillion of international trade each year – “unlawful”, quoting a 2016 decision by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.
The US has repeatedly said that US forces will continue to operate in the South China Sea on a daily basis, as they have for more than a century.
The US Department of Defence said on Thursday that China’s missile launches threatened peace and security in the region. Beijing’s “actions, including missile tests, further destabilise the situation in the South China Sea”, the Pentagon said in a statement.