US Destroyer Sails Near China-Claimed Islands, Adding to Mounting Tensions

Spokesman: Destroyer shows China can't claim this territory

US relations with China are being called the worst in 40 years, and there are an ever-growing litany of reasons why. From the US blaming China for coronavirus to US hostility toward Chinese telecom company Huawei, there are a lot of issues on which the two nations don’t see eye to eye.

One of the most dangerous divides is on territorial claims, where the US has been challenging Chinese maritime claims in the South China Sea, usually doing so with deliberate naval confrontation by sending warships close to China-claimed islands.

The maritime challenges usually resulted in harsh rhetoric in the past. As ties worsen, there is a growing risk of matters getting out of hand. On Thursday, the USS Mustin, a guided-missile destroyer, sailed near two Chinese-claimed Paracel Islands, Woody Island and Pyramid Rock.

There was no direct confrontation, but Chinese officials say their warships and planes followed the US ship, and issued warnings advising them to leave the area, which China views as part of its territorial waters.

US Naval spokesmen are claiming victory on that, saying the ship “demonstrated that these waters are beyond what China can lawfully claim.” The legal question is a complicated one, as the US rejects claims to both the islands and the sea itself, even though valid Chinese ownership of islands does not automatically confer maritime rights to the surrounding sea.

The US wants to take a hardline position on China, even without international support, and in the South China Sea that has meant backing all nations who have conflicting claims with China’s in the area, even though some of these nations openly reject the US position on the grounds that they don’t want to be dragged into a US conflict.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is news editor of