China has censured the United States for sending a warship very close to one of the country’s artificial islands to the South China Sea.
The USS Curtis Wilbur, a missile destroyer, passed within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island, which is part of the Paracel Islands, on Friday, a move apparently designed to increase tensions with Beijing.
US Navy Captain Jeff Davis said in a statement on Saturday the “operation was about challenging excessive maritime claims that restrict the rights and freedoms of the United States and others, not about territorial claims to land features.”
In response, the Chinese Ministry of Defense issued a statement, saying the US action “severely violated the law.”
“It damaged the peaceful, safe and good order in relevant waters and is not beneficial to regional peace and stability,” said Defense Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun.
America’s latest action is not the first time in recent months the US military has flexed its muscles in the South China Sea.
"We will fly, sail and operate anywhere in the world that international law allows," one US military official said in October, after the US Navy sent its USS Lassen, a guided-missile destroyer, within 12 nautical miles of Subi Reef in the Spratly Islands archipelago.
"US Freedom of Navigation operations are global in scope and executed against a wide range of excessive maritime claims, irrespective of the coastal state advancing the excessive claim," the official added.
Chinese officials described the Pentagon’s move as “dangerous and provocative.”
“We would urge the US not to continue down the wrong path. But if the US side does continue, we will take all necessary measures according to the need,” the Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman said.
China has on different occasions asserted its sovereignty over the sea, with Chinese Vice Admiral Yuan Yubai, commander of the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN) North Sea Fleet, insisting back in September that the South China Sea belongs to China.
However, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims over the South China Sea.