China says US warship illegally enters its territory in South China Sea

China opposed the US action, which violated its sovereignty and undermined regional peace and stability. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

BEIJING (REUTERS) - China said on Thursday (May 20) a US warship had illegally entered its territorial waters in the South China Sea, and was expelled by its forces, an assertion the United States denied, in the latest exchange of salvos over Beijing's claims in the busy waterway.

In a statement, the Chinese military's Southern Theatre Command said the USS Curtis Wilbur entered the waters near the Paracel Islands without permission, adding that its ships and planes followed the US vessel and "expelled" it.

It added that China opposed the US action, which it said violated its sovereignty and undermined regional peace and stability.

However, the US Navy said the vessel "asserted navigational rights and freedoms" near the Paracel Islands, over which China, Taiwan and Vietnam all claim sovereignty.

The Chinese military's comments about the mission were false, it added.

"USS Curtis Wilbur was not 'expelled' from any nation's territory," it said. "USS Curtis Wilbur conducted this Freedom of Navigation Operation (Fonop) in accordance with international law and then continued on to conduct normal operations in international waters."

South China Sea has emerged as one of many flashpoints in the testy Sino-US relations, with Washington rejecting what it has called unlawful territorial claims asserted by Beijing in the resources-rich waters.

US warships have passed through the South China Sea with increasing frequency in recent years, a show of force against the Chinese claims.

In a statement addressing both that incident and Thursday's flare-up, China's defence ministry described the US warship's movements as a serious provocation.

"China's military will take all necessary measures to deal with all threats and provocations," it added.

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