A US Navy warship cruised close to some of the Chinese military’s most advanced weapon outposts in the South China Sea on Tuesday, drawing a sharp rebuke from Beijing.
The USS Chancellorsville guided-missile cruiser conducted a freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) near the Spratly Islands to challenge Chinese claims to own 90% of the sea, Navy Lt. Luka Bakic said in a statement.
Lt. Bakic also denied Chinese military claims that the warship was chased from the sea.
“The PRC’s statement about this mission is false,” he said. “The USS Chancellorsville conducted this FONOP in accordance with international law and then continued to conduct normal operations in waters where high seas freedoms apply.”
The operation is part of defending the rights of all nations to navigate and operate freely in international waters, the spokesperson added.
“Nothing the PRC says otherwise will deter us,” Lt. Bakic said.
Tian Junli, a spokesman for the People’s Liberation Army Southern Theater Command, said in a statement that the warship “entered” near what China calls the Nansha Islands without Chinese permission.
“The actions of the US military have seriously violated China’s sovereignty and security,” he said, adding that the operation revealed the US to be a “provocateur against peace in the region. “.
The passage of a warship was the first since President Biden met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Bali, Indonesia earlier this month.
China broke off military talks with the United States in August following a visit to Taiwan by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, subsequently staging the biggest war games around Taiwan in decades, including 11 ballistic missile fire that landed near the island.
Lt. Bakic said the PLA statement “is the latest in a long line of actions by the PRC aimed at distorting lawful US maritime operations and asserting its excessive and illegitimate maritime claims at the expense of its neighbors. Southeast Asia in the South China Sea”.
China has built a total of 114 acres on three small islands in the Spratlys: Cuarteron Reef, Hughes Reef and Gaven Reef. The latest Pentagon report on the Chinese military says that since 2018, Chinese-occupied Spratly outposts have been armed with advanced anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles as well as military jamming equipment.
The missiles and jammers are “the most capable land-based weapon systems deployed by any claimant in the disputed South China Sea to date.”
During a naval operation in mid-2021 by US and Australian Navy ships, the PLA deployed a spy ship and a surveillance aircraft in the Spratlys.
China claims 90% of the South China Sea, where ships carrying about $5 trillion worth of goods pass each year, under a vague historic claim.
An international court dismissed China’s claims as illegal in 2016, although China refused to recognize the decision of the Netherlands-based Permanent Court of Arbitration which ruled in favor of a challenge brought by the Philippines.
“As long as some countries continue to claim and assert limits on rights that exceed their authority under international law, the United States will continue to defend the rights and freedoms of the sea guaranteed to all,” Lt. Bakich said. .
The Spratleys are claimed by China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines.
Customary international law allows all ships, including warships, to make “innocent passage” through territorial waters.
“By engaging in innocent passage without first informing or seeking permission from any of the claimants, the United States challenged the illegal restrictions imposed by the PRC, Taiwan and Vietnam,” Lt. Bakic said.
In October, two Australian warships were closely followed by the Chinese military after sailing near the Spratleys, in a joint show of force with US and Japanese naval forces. The ships were joined by the Japanese destroyer Kirisame and the Navy destroyer USS Milius.
During this transit, the Chinese military showed “a significant increase in tactical acumen and use of [electronic warfare] capabilities,” an Australian defense official told local media.