China called the US the “biggest disrupter of peace” in the South China Sea after a US warship sailed near Chinese-controlled islands in the disputed waters.
The US Navy’s Seventh Fleet said Saturday that the guided-missile destroyer USS Hopper sailed near the Paracel Islands, known as the Xisha Islands in China, in an operation known as a Freedom of Navigation Operation (FONOP). The US began regularly conducting FONOPs to challenge China’s claims in the South China Sea in 2015.
The area where the USS Hopper conducted the FONOP is also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam. According to The South China Morning Post, the Chinese military said it “warned off” the US warship after it entered the Xisha Islands’ territorial waters, which extend 12 nautical miles from a coastline.
“The serious violation of China’s sovereignty and security by the United States is further iron proof that it is pursuing ‘navigation hegemony’ and creating ‘militarization of the South China Sea,'” China’s People’s Liberation Army’s Southern Theater Command said in a statement.
“It fully proves that the United States is an out-and-out ‘security risk creator of the South China Sea,’ and the ‘biggest disrupter’ of peace and stability in the South China Sea,” the statement said.
The US and its allies have been increasing their military activity in the South China Sea and other areas near China as part of the US-led military buildup in the region. On Friday, an Australian warship transited the sensitive Taiwan Strait, prompting China’s Foreign Ministry to war against “provocative actions.”
The following day, the Australian warship that transited the Taiwan Strait began a joint patrol with the Philippine military in the South China Sea, a first for military cooperation between Manila and Canberra. Last week, the US and the Philippines restarted joint air patrols in the disputed waters.