China Warns US Warships Away From Disputed Spratly Islands

Officials claim US entered sovereign waters without permission

China’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement Monday reporting that they had ordered two US guided-missile destroyers out of the waters around a pair of Spratly Islands reefs which are claimed by China. The US contests their claim.

The islands are in the South China Sea, and are claimed by several nations including China. The US backs all claims to those islands except for China’s, and urges all other nations to negotiate to settle the disputes, again except for China.

US warships have routinely sailed near contested Chinese islands in what they call “freedom of navigation” operations, which are aimed to prove the US can sail through there whether China likes it or not. China had been ignoring them for a time, though the Pentagon’s repeated efforts to draw attention to such operations have raised tensions.

China is arguing that in getting within 12 miles of the Spratly Islands, the US violated China’s sovereign waters. This could be contested even more than the islands’ ownership, as generally speaking, ownership of such small islands and reefs do not confer an extension of sovereign waters in the same way as the mainland does.

Either way, the US operations were deliberately intended to provoke China, and were successful in doing so. What this will lead to remains to be seen, but the main other claimant in the region, the Philippines, has expressed opposition to the US using their territorial claims to suck them into a regional war with China.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is senior editor of