China has accused the US of trespassing after an American warship sailed near a reef in the South China Sea amid growing tensions between Beijing and Washington.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters at a regular press briefing in Beijing on Thursday that the US warship trespassed in its waters “without permission”.
The guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey entered the area “without permission from the Chinese government”, Lu said, adding that the ship had “trespassed in the waters near the relevant islands and reefs”.
“The relevant action taken by the US vessel undermines China’s sovereignty and security interests, and is very likely to cause unexpected sea and air accidents,” the spokesman noted
The Chinese official also demanded Washington to stop “provocative actions”.
A US official confirmed earlier that the USS Dewey sailed less than 12 nautical miles from Mischief Reef on Thursday morning local time.
Territorial waters are generally defined by a United Nations convention as extending 12 nautical miles from a country’s coastline.
Speaking earlier in the day, spokesman Major Jamie Davis said US forces will fly and sail “wherever international law” allows.
“We have a comprehensive Freedom of Navigation Operations program that seeks to challenge excessive maritime claims in order to preserve the rights, freedoms, and uses of the sea and airspace guaranteed to all nations under international law,” Davis said in a statement
The exercises are “not about any one country, nor are they about making political statements,” he added.
The so-called freedom of navigation operation, which is sure to anger China, is the first such challenge to Beijing in the strategic waterway since US President Donald Trump took .
This US handout photo obtained March 15, 2017, shows the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, foreground, as it transits the East China Sea with the Japan’s Murasame-class destroyer JS Samidare on March 9, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
China has repeatedly warned the United States against any activities in the South China Sea.
Trump accused Beijing during the 2016 presidential campaign of militarizing parts of the South China Sea, stealing American jobs with unfair trade policies and manipulating its currency in its favor.
The South China Sea is the subject of a territorial dispute between China and Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei. But those countries seem to have been managing their disputes with China smoothly.
The latest developments also come a week after the United States said that two Chinese jets intercepted a US spy plane flying over the East China Sea.
The Chinese fighter jets outmaneuvered the US jet, forcing it to descend hundreds of feet from its position. China denied US allegations, saying that its aircraft were acting “in accordance with the law.”