America denies China expelled US Navy warship near Spratly Islands
China falsely claimed that it expelled an American warship from the South China Sea (SCS) on Tuesday, the US Navy has said, adding that Beijing’s statement was an effort to assert its illegitimate claims in the maritime region.
China on Tuesday said its military had “expelled” a US Navy guided-missile destroyer sailing near the Nansha Islands – also known as Spratly Islands - in the South China Sea in a fresh escalation of tensions between the two countries.
Beijing said the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) southern theatre command deployed ships and aircraft to warn US destroyer USS John S. McCain as it sailed through disputed waters of the South China Sea.
“The PRC’s (People’s Republic of China) statement about this mission is false. USS John S. McCain was not ‘expelled’ from any nation’s territory,” Lieutenant Joe Keiley, US Navy’s 7th Fleet spokesperson, said in a statement.
“The PRC’s statement is the latest in a long string of PRC actions to misrepresent lawful US maritime operations and assert its excessive and illegitimate maritime claims at the expense of its southeast Asian neighbours in the SCS,” Keiley added.
China claims nearly the entire South China Sea, but that claim is disputed by several maritime neighbours, including the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia, besides Vietnam and Taiwan.
It is understood that the PLA did contact the US destroyer over “bridge-to-bridge” radio, asking for the American ship to leave; a PLA destroyer also shadowed it during the operation.
However, the US Navy spokesperson said that its ship conducted its operation and left “on our timeline’’ and was not “expelled”.
“USS John S. McCain conducted this FONOP (freedom of navigation operation) in accordance with international law and then continued 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,” Keiley said.
“The United States will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, as USS John S. McCain did here,” Keiley added. “The PRC’s behaviour stands in contrast to the United States’ adherence to international law and our vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific region.”
On November 24, the same US destroyer was caught in a similar incident with the Russian navy. Moscow had said at that time one of its warships caught and chased off the USS McCain operating “illegally” in its territorial waters in the Sea of Japan.
The US Navy had denied wrongdoing, accusing Moscow of making excessive maritime claims.
In April, China had scrambled aircraft and deployed ships to track and expel a frontline US warship from near another Beijing-controlled region called Paracel Islands - also known as Xisha Islands in China and Hoang Sa Archipelago in Vietnam - in the South China Sea.