U.S. warships 'seriously infringed' on China - Beijing military chiefs
29 May, 2018, 00:29 | Author: Essie Rivera
Though similar operations are routine, and this one had been planned months ago, it came at a crucial time: days earlier, the Pentagon uninvited China from a US-hosted naval drill.
The ministry said the Chinese military issued warnings to guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam and the USS Higgins to leave the waters after they "arbitrarily entered" the contested Paracel Islands in the waterway "without permission of the Chinese government".
The area is among a string of islets, reefs and shoals over which China has territorial disputes with its neighbors.
Several US officials who declined to be named said the two US warships came within 12 nautical miles of the Paracel Islands, maneuvering near Tree, Lincoln, Triton and Woody islands in the operations.
Critics of the operations, known as a "freedom of navigation", have said that they have little impact on Chinese behavior and are largely symbolic.
The U.S. warships were carrying out "freedom of navigation" operations, also called FONOPS, which the Navy says are a means to challenge excessive maritime claims and uphold rights to use of the sea under worldwide law.
In a statement, the ministry said the military immediately dispatched naval ships and aircraft to "warn them off".
It claimed the United States had entered the country's territorial waters without permission.
Citing Defense Ministry spokesman Wu Qian, the statement said the USA warships "undermined strategic mutual trust between the two militaries and damaged peace, security and good order in relevant waters".
China's foreign minister said China had a right to take whatever measures it deemed fit on its island holdings, and the defence ministry criticized the US move as "unconstructive", saying it would do nothing to change China's resolve to "play a role in maintaining peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region".
China said "mutual trust between the two militaries" had been "harmed" as a result, and that it would "continue to take all necessary measures to defend the country's sovereignty and security".
China claims nearly the entire South China Sea, a strategic waterway through which about US$3 trillion worth of sea-borne goods passes every year.
China has been deploying serious military power to the region - including constructing manmade islands bristling with missiles.
United States officials accused Beijing of breaking a promise the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, made in 2015 when he said China did not intend to militarise the disputed territories.
But China will miss out on the exercises this year, which are held in Hawaii, following Mattis' decision.
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