China did not ‘expel’ a US warship, US Navy says

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China’s assertions that it employed naval and air forces to evict a US warship from its territory this week are incorrect, according to US Navy officials.

The destroyer John S. McCain was “expelled” from waters around the Spratly Islands in the West Philippine Sea, according to a senior colonel with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. The allegations were published in China’s state-run publication, the Global Times.

The remark, however, is “the latest in a long string” of Chinese efforts to distort authorized US maritime operations in the region, according to Navy officials.

“The [People’s Republic of China’s] statement about this mission is false,” said Lt. Joe Keiley, a spokesman for US 7th Fleet. “USS John S. McCain was not ‘expelled’ from any nation’s territory.”

On Tuesday, the McCain carried out a freedom of navigation operation in the West Philippine Sea. Officials claimed in a Tuesday press release that the mission upheld international law’s recognition of rights, freedoms, and authorized uses of the sea by contesting China, Vietnam, and Taiwan’s restrictions on innocent passage.

The group of islands is claimed by these three countries, as well as Malaysia, the Philippines, and Brunei. In a statement released Tuesday, Navy authorities stated that sweeping and illegal maritime claims represent a major danger to the freedom of the seas.

“The international community has an enduring role in preserving the freedom of the seas, which is critical to global security, stability and prosperity,” the release states.

China called the McCain’s movements “a serious violation” of its sovereignty and security, adding that the operation “gravely disrupted peace and stability in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea).” Troops there are “on high alert at all times,” according to the Global Times, “and will firmly carry out their duties and missions to safeguard national sovereignty and security, as well as peace and stability in the region.”

As McCain did Tuesday, Keiley said the US military will continue to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law permits.

“The PRC’s behavior stands in contrast to the United States’ adherence to international law and our vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific region,” he added.

“All nations, large and small, should be secure in their sovereignty, free from coercion, and able to pursue economic growth consistent with accepted international rules and norms.”

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