The US sailed a warship near the Chinese-controlled Paracel Islands in the South China Sea on Wednesday in Washington’s latest challenge to Beijing’s claims in the disputed waters.
The US Navy’s Seventh Fleet said the guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold made the provocative passage on July 13 local time. The US often sails warships close to Chinese-controlled islands in the region in maneuvers it dubs Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs).
Beijing strongly condemned the move, accusing the US of infringing on its territorial waters, which extend 12 nautical miles off the coast. China, Vietnam, and Taiwan all lay claim to the Paracel Islands, an archipelago of small coral islands and reefs.
“Actions by the US military seriously infringed on China’s sovereignty and security, seriously undermined peace and stability in the South China Sea, and seriously violated international law and norms of international relations,” a spokesman for China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) said, according to The South China Morning Post.
Also on Wednesday, the Seventh Fleet announced that the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and its strike group are now operating in the South China Sea. The Seventh Fleet said the strike group is “conducting maritime security operations, which include flight operations with fixed and rotary-wing aircraft, maritime strike exercises, and coordinated tactical training between surface and air units.”
The US military activity in the region comes a day after the Biden administration reminded China that the US would intervene if China attacked Philippine vessels in the South China Sea. Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivered the warning in a statement on the sixth anniversary of an international tribunal ruling that sided with the Philippines against Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea.
The tribunal made the ruling under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The US is not a party to UNCLOS but has used the treaty to reject most of China’s claims to the South China Sea.