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Al Jazeera
Al Jazeera

Chinese military says US ship ‘warned’ away in South China Sea

China's Southern Theatre Command says the USS Milius, centre, a guided missile destroyer, intruded into the waters around the disputed Paracel Islands [File: Issei Kato/ Reuters]

China’s military says it tracked and warned away a United States warship that had illegally entered waters it claims in the South China Sea. The US Navy denied China’s claims, stating that the ship was on a routine operation and left the area of its own accord.

In a statement on Thursday, the Southern Theatre Command of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) said the USS Milius, a guided missile destroyer, intruded into waters around the disputed Paracel Islands.

The PLA “organised sea and air forces to track and monitor [the ship] in accordance with the law” and “warned it to leave”, spokesperson for the Southern Theatre Command Tian Junli said.

The US vessel “made an illegal incursion into Chinese territorial waters … without permission from the Chinese government, harming peace and stability” in the region, he said.

“The theatre forces will maintain a high state of alert at all times and take all necessary measures to resolutely safeguard national sovereignty and security and peace and stability in the South China Sea,” he said.

China’s state media described the US ship as having trespassed in “Chinese territorial waters”.

The US Navy on Thursday disputed the PLA statement, saying the destroyer was conducting “routine operations” in the South China Sea and was not expelled by Chinese ships.

“The United States will continue to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows,” a statement from the US Navy 7th Fleet said.

A tweet from the 7th Fleet made no mention of the USS Milius’s encounter with Chinese naval forces.

The US-China tension has been growing in recent months as Beijing adopts a most aggressive stance towards Taiwan and as Washington seals agreements for military cooperation with Asian states which are party to territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

China claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea – a strategic waterway through which trade worth trillions of dollars happens annually – despite an international court ruling that the assertion has no legal basis.

The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei have overlapping claims in the sea and they have accused Chinese vessels of harassing their fishing boats in the area.

Map of the South China Sea showing the locations of the disputed Paracel and Spratly islands (Al Jazeera)

The Paracel Islands where the USS Milius was spotted are also claimed by Vietnam.

The US sends naval vessels through the waterway regularly to assert freedom of navigation in international waters. The movement of US ships in the disputed sea has raised tensions with Beijing.

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