US warships sail near disputed islands, Beijing pledges to defend sovereignty

28 May 2018

US warships sail near disputed islands, Beijing pledges to defend sovereignty

US warships sailed near disputed islands in the South China Sea on Sunday, causing Beijing to protest ‘provocation’ and pledge to defend sovereignty.

The two warships, the Higgins guided-missile destroyer and the Antietam guided-missile cruiser, sailed just 12 nautical miles from the Paracel Islands in a routine operation that the US Government says was planned months in advance.

However, the operation comes at a particularly sensitive time, after the Pentagon uninvited China from a major US-hosted naval drill.

The cancellation of the summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has also put further strain on the ties between the US and China, amid a trade dispute between the world’s two largest economies.

The US military vessels carried out maneuvering operations near Tree, Lincoln, Triton, and Woody islands in the Paracels, an official said.

China’s Defence Ministry expressed its anger at the US, sending its own ships and aircraft to the islands to warn the US warships to leave, saying that they had entered China’s territory without permission.

The move “contravened Chinese and relevant international law, seriously infringed upon Chinese sovereignty [and] harmed strategic mutual trust between the two militaries”, it said. “The Chinese military is unshakably determined to strengthen its naval and air combat readiness.”

In a separate statement, China’s Foreign Ministry urged the United States to stop such actions.

“China will continue to take all necessary measures to defend the country’s sovereignty and security,” the Foreign Ministry said, without elaborating.

Washington did not directly address Sunday’s operations, however the Pentagon released a statement saying that it was a routine operation.

“We conduct routine and regular Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs), as we have done in the past and will continue to do in the future,” US Pacific Fleet said in a statement.

The US has maintained its view that China has not been transparent enough with its military build-up, and that its operations should have increased freedom-of-navigation within the South China Sea.