The Southern Theatre Command of the People’s Liberation Army has reportedly claimed that it warned away a US warship in the South China Sea.
The US Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Benfold (DDG 65) sailed around the Paracel (Xisha) islands in the disputed waterways.
The Chinese armed forces also said that it deployed warships and jets to monitor the destroyer’s movements.
Denying the claims, US 7th Fleet said: “The People’s Republic of China’s statement about this mission is false. USS Benfold conducted this freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) in accordance with international law and then continued on to conduct normal operations in international waters.
“The operation reflects our commitment to uphold freedom of navigation and lawful uses of the sea as a principle. The United States is defending every nation’s right to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows, as USS Benfold did this week. Nothing PRC says otherwise will deter us.”
The navy also said that USS Benfold exited the South China Sea following the completion of the operations.
US 7th Fleet added: “This freedom of navigation operation (“FONOP”) upheld the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea recognised in international law by challenging restrictions on innocent passage imposed by the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Taiwan, and Vietnam and also by challenging the PRC’s claim to straight baselines enclosing the Paracel Islands.”
The entry of US warships in the South China Sea has increased in the recent years.
Last September, US Navy’s Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group and the Carrier Air Wing 2 have operations in the disputed waters. This mission marked the first-time operation of the CSG with F-35C Lightning II supersonic fighter jet and Navy CMV-22B Osprey aircraft platforms in the region.
Earlier last year, the US Navy’s Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group (TRCSG) conducted routine operations in the South China Sea.