In a new escalation of tensions between Beijing and Washington, Beijing announced on Tuesday that its military had “expelled” a US Navy destroyer cruising near the Spratly Islands in the West Philippine Sea.
China said the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) southern theatre command dispatched ships and aircraft to warn the US destroyer USS John S. McCain as it headed into disputed seas in the West Philippine Sea.
After sailing through the Taiwan Strait on Sunday, China’s second aircraft carrier, Shandong, was claimed to be conducting drills in the West Philippine Sea region.
Several maritime neighbors, notably the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and Indonesia, as well as Vietnam and Taiwan, which China claims as a breakaway province, challenge China’s claim to practically the entire West Philippine Sea.
“The Chinese PLA on Tuesday expelled US destroyer USS John S. McCain after it trespassed into China’s territorial waters off Nansha Islands in the South China Sea,” said Senior Colonel Tian Junli, a spokesperson for the PLA southern theatre command.
According to Tian, China is adamantly opposed to the US warship’s intrusion, saying that the US actions jeopardize the region’s peace and stability.
“Such actions by the US have seriously violated China’s sovereignty and security and severely undermined peace and stability in the SCS,” Tian added.
In the Philippine Sea, a US guided-missile destroyer practiced anti-submarine warfare alongside a French submarine and a Japanese carrier last week.
The vessel was performing freedom of navigation operations in the SCS, according to a statement from the US 7th Fleet Public Affairs.
“On December 22, USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the Spratly Islands, consistent with international law. This freedom of navigation operation (“FONOP”) upheld the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law by challenging restrictions on innocent passage imposed by China, Vietnam, and Taiwan,” the statement said.
“All interactions with foreign military forces were consistent with international norms and did not impact the operation,” it added.
Unlawful and broad maritime claims in the West Philippine Sea, according to the US statement, represent a severe threat to the “…freedom of the seas, including the freedoms of navigation and overflight, free trade and unrestricted commerce, and freedom of economic opportunity for SCS (WPS) littoral nations.”
China scrambled aircraft and sent ships in April to monitor and eject a frontline US destroyer from the West Philippine Sea’s Paracel Islands, also known as Xisha Islands in China and Hoang Sa Archipelago in Vietnam.
The PLA’s southern command had then accused the guided-missile destroyer USS Barry of carrying out a “provocative act” and violating Chinese sovereignty, saying the warship’s intrusion forced it to “track, monitor, verify, identify, and expel” it.