China’s military said it “drove away” a United States warship that it said illegally entered Chinese waters near the disputed Paracel Islands on Monday, the anniversary of a landmark international court ruling that Beijing has no claim over the South China Sea.
The USS Benfold entered the waters of the Paracels without the approval of the Chinese government, seriously violating China’s sovereignty and undermining the stability of the South China Sea, the People’s Liberation Army’s Southern Theater Command said.
“We urge the United States to immediately stop such provocative actions,” the Southern Theater Command said in a statement.
In a statement, the United States Navy 7th Fleet said the Benfold had “asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the vicinity of the Paracel Islands, consistent with international law” and dismissed Chinese claims of a serious violation of its sovereignty as “false” and a misrepresentation.
It stressed that all ships have the right of “innocent passage” under international law as reflected in the Convention on the Law of the Sea and permission is not required.
“The operation reflects our commitment to uphold freedom of navigation and lawful uses of the sea as a principle,” the statement said. “The United States will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, as USS Benfold did here. Nothing PRC (the People’s Republic of China) says otherwise will deter us.”
The Paracels, called Xisha in China, are among hundreds of islands, reefs and atolls in the resource-rich South China Sea contested by China, Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei, with Beijing claiming historic rights to everything within its so-called nine-dash line, which covers most of the region.
China took control of the Paracels, a chain of barren islands about 250 miles (400 kilometres east of Vietnam) and 220 miles (350 kilometres) southeast of Hainan Island, in the 1970s. They are also claimed by Vietnam, which calls them Hoang Sa, as well as Taiwan. All three countries require permission or advance notification before any military vessel sails through the area, the US Navy said.