China People’s Liberation Army (PLA) said it warned off a US Navy destroyer that sailed near the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea and strongly condemned the maneuver. The US Navy’s Seventh Fleet said the destroyer USS Benfold made the provocative passage on Monday.
“The US military’s actions seriously violated China’s sovereignty and security, seriously damaged the peace and stability of the South China Sea and seriously violated international law and the norms of international relations — more ironclad proof it is engaging in navigational hegemony to cause the militarisation of the South China Sea,” said Tian Junli, a spokesman for the PLA’s Southern Theater Command.
“We strongly condemn and resolutely oppose this, and we urge the US side to immediately stop their provocative actions and to strictly control their maritime and air activities. Otherwise, the US side will need to bear all consequences that arise from this,” Tian added.
The Seventh Fleet said China’s statement on the maneuver was false, claiming the passage was allowed under international law.
The US frequently sails warships near Chinese-claimed islands in the South China Sea, maneuvers Washington calls Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs). Monday’s FONOP marked the fourth of 2021. The Trump administration carried out nine FONOPs against China in 2020, a record high.
The FONOP came as the Biden administration reaffirmed the US’s rejection of most of Beijing’s claims to the South China Sea. The US rejection of these claims was made formal by the Trump administration last year based on a 2016 international tribunal ruling that sided with the Philippines over China in a territorial dispute over the waters.
When reaffirming the US policy, Secretary of State Antony Blinken reminded China that the US-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty covers the South China Sea. Meaning the US is willing to risk war with China over the dispute.