The Chinese Foreign Ministry has filed a formal complaint with US authorities in protest of a US naval destroyer crossing into territorial waters claimed by Beijing in the South China Sea near the Xisha Islands.
“China sent military vessels and planes to investigate and identify the US military ship and warned it to leave,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said Wednesday said at a regular news briefing.
China has been in control of the Xisha Islands, also known as the Paracel Islands, since 1974, but announced the the baseline of territorial waters there in 1996.
Beijing says that guided missile destroyer the USS Chafee, entered its territory on Tuesday and carried out “freedom of navigation” maneuvers without Chinese consent.
“China urges the US side to respect Chinese sovereignty and security interests as well as the efforts of regional countries to maintain the peace and stability of the South China Sea,” Hua added.
But US officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to US media, said that the Navy does not declare ahead of time its intent to carry out such missions.
They said that the USS Chafee approached to a distant of 30 kms from the islands as part of a US military strategy to “challenge Beijing’s excessive maritime claims”.
The US does not recognize China’s sovereignty over the Xisha Islands and says they are contested by Vietnam and Taiwan.
Beijing claims 90 per cent of the South China Sea, a maritime region believed to hold a wealth of untapped oil and gas reserves and through which roughly $4.5 trillion of ship-borne trade passes every year. In addition to Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have contesting claims on these waters.
Maritime disputes between China on the one hand and the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan on the other have caused tensions in the region and often led to a war of words between Beijing and Washington.
Beijing has long accused Washington of meddling in the South China Sea. The US conducts periodic air and naval patrols near the disputed islands that have angered Beijing.