A U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer sailed within 12 nautical miles of an island claimed by China and two other nations in the South China Sea on Saturday, in an operation the Pentagon said aimed to challenge efforts to restrict freedom of navigation.
China condemned the U.S. action as provocative.
“The American warship has violated relevant Chinese laws by entering Chinese territorial waters without prior permission, and the Chinese side has taken relevant measures including monitoring and admonishments,” China’s foreign ministry said.
China’s defense ministry called the American action “intentionally provocative and “irresponsible and extremely dangerous”.
The ministry also said Chinese navy vessels had taken responsive action, conducted identification checks and promptly given warnings for the ship to keep its distance.
“Regardless of whatever provocative steps the American side takes, China’s military will take all necessary measures to firmly safeguard national sovereignty and security,” the ministry statement concluded.
Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis, however, said no ships from China’s military were in the vicinity of the USS Curtis Wilbur when it passed near Triton Island — called Zhongjian Dao in China — in the Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands).
“This operation challenged attempts by the three claimants – China, Taiwan and Vietnam – to restrict navigation rights and freedoms,” Davis said, reflecting the U.S. position that the crucial sea lane should be treated as international waters.
“No claimants were notified prior to the transit, which is consistent with our normal process and international law,” Davis said.
This is not the first time the Pentagon has flexed its muscles in the area.
In October 2015, it sent a warship USS Lassen within 12 nautical miles of artificial islands built by China in South China Sea.
China viewed the act as “dangerous and provocative” and summoned the US ambassador to China Max Baucus.
While US and its smaller Asian allies are concerned about China’s claims over South China Sea, America’s show of force like sending warships into China’s territorial sea without authorization will only force Beijing to further expand facilities in the man-made islands which it claims as its own.
A recent study said the South China Sea will turn virtually into a Chinese lake by 2030.