The United States has denied Chinese claims that a US destroyer was driven out from waters around the contested Paracel Islands after it “illegally” entered the area in the South China Sea.
In a statement on Thursday, the Chinese military said the guided-missile destroyer USS Milius illegally intruded into China’s territorial waters, without the approval of the government, undermining peace and stability in the busy waterway.
The United States Navy, however, declared this to be false.
“The USS Milius is conducting routine operations in the South China Sea and was not expelled. The United States will continue to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows,” a statement from the US Navy 7th Fleet said.
The Paracel Islands are a disputed archipelago spread across about 7 square km in the South China Sea. China has de facto control of the islands and has built installations and outposts, but Taiwan and Vietnam also claim ownership.
Similar interactions have occurred in the past, including in July last year when the Chinese army again claimed it “drove away” a US destroyer from the area.
The US’s Indo-Pacific Command at the time said China’s statement was “false” and the US ship was conducting a freedom of navigation operation (Fonop), in line with international law. The Fonop sought to challenge restrictions imposed by various parties including China, Taiwan and Vietnam, on “innocent passage” through the disputed area, and to challenge China’s claim of straight baselines which enclose the Paracel Islands.
“The United States upholds freedom of navigation for all nations as a principle. 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,” it said at the time.
Posts on the Indo-Pacific Command’s social media accounts confirm multiple US Navy exercises in the east Asian region in recent days, including the East China Sea, the Philippine Sea, and the South China Sea.
Tension between the United States and China has been growing in the area.
The United States has been shoring up alliances in the Asia-Pacific seeking to counter China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait, as Beijing seeks to advance its territorial claims.