China slams 'serious provocation' by US ship near disputed isles

The USS Stethem in waters east of the Korean Peninsula in March. On Sunday, it sailed within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island, part of the Paracels. China said the US destroyer had "trespassed" into its territorial waters.
The USS Stethem in waters east of the Korean Peninsula in March. On Sunday, it sailed within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island, part of the Paracels. China said the US destroyer had "trespassed" into its territorial waters.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING • China has accused the United States of staging a "serious political and military provocation" after a US warship sailed near a disputed island in the South China Sea.

The USS Stethem, a guided-missile destroyer, sailed within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island, part of the Paracel chain, on Sunday, a US defence official said, marking the second such operation since President Donald Trump took office.

But China, which has enjoyed de facto control of the Paracels since expelling Vietnam in a military engagement in 1974, said the islands, which it calls Xisha, are an "inherent part of Chinese territory".

Its Foreign Ministry said the Stethem had "trespassed" into China's territorial waters.

"Its behaviour has violated the Chinese law and relevant international law, infringed upon China's sovereignty, disrupted peace, security and order of the relevant waters and put in jeopardy the facilities and personnel on the Chinese islands, and thus constitutes a serious political and military provocation," ministry spokesman Lu Kang said in a statement.

China will take all necessary measures to defend itself, he added.

But US officials said the freedom-of-navigation operation was planned in advance, and was not targeted at any one country.

The incident is the latest flare-up in relations in just a few days, and came only hours before a phone conversation between Mr Trump and President Xi Jinping yesterday morning (Sunday night in Washington). Last week, the ministry slammed twin US announcements: A major arms sales package to Taiwan, and fresh sanctions on North Korea that target a Chinese bank.

Mr Lu said at the time the "wrong moves go against the consensus achieved at Mar-a-Lago", when the two leaders met in Florida in April.

WASHINGTON POST, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2017, with the headline 'China slams 'serious provocation' by US ship near disputed isles'. Print Edition | Subscribe