China has strongly condemned a recent move by a United States warship to sail near one of its islands in the disputed South China Sea, describing the move as a “provocation.”
The USS Stethem, a guided-missile destroyer, sailed within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island, part of the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, a US Defense Department official said, media reported on Sunday. China said in response that it had sent its navy battle ships and fighter jets to confront the potential threat.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs also said the US warship had made an unauthorized entry into the country’s territorial waters.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang described the US move as a “serious political and military provocation.”
“China strongly urges the US side to immediately stop this kind of provocative action, which seriously violates China’s sovereignty and puts at risk China’s security,” Lu said.
He warned that China would take all necessary measures to defend itself against US aggression.
Meanwhile, the Global Times, a Chinese daily reflecting the views of the government, said on Monday that, “Washington [was] playing political games in the South China Sea” by sending the warships. The daily said that Washington’s bid to destabilize the region would fail and would not change the territorial situation.
“US provocations cannot change the present situation in the South China Sea,” it said.
The territorial limit of a sovereign region recognized internationally is 12 nautical miles. When a US warship sails within the 12-mile limit, it is meant to show disregard of sovereignty.
China fully took over the Paracel Islands in 1974 after forcing the navy of the-then South Vietnam off its holdings.
The US backs China’s neighbors in their disputes with Beijing over its claims to the Paracel Islands.
The maneuver by the USS Stethem was the second of what the US refers to as freedom-of-navigation operations under US President Donald Trump. The first was conducted in May by the USS Dewey guided-missile destroyer, which sailed within 12 nautical miles of Meiji Reef in the Spratly Islands.
China repeatedly condemns the navigation of US warships in the disputed waters.
Courting and displeasing
Trump has praised Chinese President Xi Jinping, who was his guest at his private residence in Florida, where the US president promised his Chinese counterpart to make every effort to build “a very, very great relationship” between the US and China.
However, his administration continues the policy of not recognizing Chinese sovereignty over territory in the South and East China Seas.
Washington has also stepped up pressure on Beijing to force North Korea to stop its military nuclear program.
On Thursday, the US administration imposed sanctions on two Chinese nationals and a shipping company for allegedly aiding Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs, and accused a Chinese bank of laundering money for Pyongyang.
The Trump administration has also recently approved a huge arms sale to Taiwan, angering China, which regards the self-ruled island as part of its territory.