Beijing criticises US warship sail-by in South China Sea

BEIJING • China said two US warships sailed near disputed islands in the South China Sea without permission yesterday in the latest US challenge to Beijing's territorial claims in the region, Agence France-Presse reported.

The Chinese navy asked the US vessels to leave after they entered waters adjacent to the Gaven and Chigua reefs in the Spratly Islands, which Beijing calls Nansha, the foreign ministry said.

The move comes on top of trade tensions as President Donald Trump on Sunday said he would raise tariffs on US$200 billion (S$273 billion) in Chinese goods on Friday because talks were moving "too slowly".

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a press briefing: "The relevant actions of the US warships violated China's sovereignty and undermined peace, security and good order in the relevant sea areas."

He said "the Chinese side expresses strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition" to the operation, and noted that the ships had entered "without permission".

The US navy regularly conducts "freedom of navigation operations" to challenge Beijing's vast claims in the sea.

The People's Liberation Army (PLA) identified the two American ships as the USS Preble and the USS Chung-Hoon, both guided-missile destroyers.

Beijing has built artificial islands and military installations in the South China Sea, including on the Spratlys. China claims nearly all of the sea, though Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam all claim parts of it.

A spokesman for the PLA's Southern Theatre Command said: "China has indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and its adjacent waters. No matter how provocative foreign warships are, this fact cannot be changed."

Meanwhile, US national security adviser John Bolton on Sunday said the US is sending an aircraft carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the Middle East to send a "clear and unmistakable" message to Iran that any attack on its interests or those of its allies will be met with "unrelenting force".

He did not give the reason for the deployment, but a defence official told Associated Press the move followed indications that Iran and its proxy forces were preparing to possibly attack US forces in the region. US-Iran tensions have risen over the latter's nuclear programme.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 07, 2019, with the headline 'Beijing criticises US warship sail-by in South China Sea'. Print Edition | Subscribe