China’s army forces have "warned off" a US destroyer from the South China Sea, describing Washington as the “biggest destroyer of peace” in the region.
In a statement on Wednesday, the Defense Ministry said the guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold “trespassed in China's territorial waters near the Nansha Islands in the South China Sea."
Naval and air forces of the People's Liberation Army's Southern Theater Command "conducted whole-process tracking and monitoring and warned off the US destroyer," the ministry added.
The US actions “seriously violated Chinese sovereignty and security, which is further solid evidence of its navigational hegemony and aggressive militarization” of the sea, said Senior Colonel Tian Junli, spokesman for the command.
The US navy, however, said that the destroyer “asserted navigation rights and freedoms” within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands.
“The United States challenges excessive maritime claims without regard to the nation asserting them,” it said in a statement Wednesday.
It added that another destroyer, the USS Carl Vinson, and its strike group were also training elsewhere in the region.
Back in July, the Benfold passed through the Taiwan Strait, in another move that China routinely condemns as a provocation.
Just days earlier, China imposed a law requiring foreign vessels to give notice before entering its territorial waters.
China claims the South China Sea in its entirety. Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei have overlapping claims to parts of the sea.
The US, however, sides with Beijing’s rival claimants in the dispute.
China has always warned the US against military activities in the sea. Beijing says potential close military encounters between the air and naval forces of the two countries in the region may cause accidents.