Beijing: China on Sunday hit out at US’ “irresponsible” move to send a warship near a disputed island in the strategic South China Sea to challenge its sovereignty, warning that America’s deliberate provocations would have “extremely dangerous consequences” to regional stability.
The Chinese armed forces will take whatever measures necessary to safeguard China’s sovereignty and security, no matter what provocations the US side may take, China’s Defense Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun said.
Yang’s statement came hours after the USS Curtis Wilbur, a guided missile destroyer, sailed within 12 nautical miles of the Zhongjian Dao (Triton Island), part of the Xisha Islands (Paracel Islands)– an archipelago claimed by China, Taiwan and Vietnam.
“This operation was about challenging excessive maritime claims that restrict the rights and freedoms of the United States and others, not about territorial claims to land features,” a US Defence Department spokesman Commander Bill Urban said in Washington yesterday.
But Yang described the US move as “very unprofessional and irresponsible” for the safety of the troops of both sides, and may cause “extremely dangerous consequences”.
He said the US act severely violated Chinese law, sabotaged the peace, security and good order of the waters, and undermined the region’s peace and stability. The Chinese Defense Ministry is firmly against this, he said.
The South China Sea is rich in natural resources. It is also a major shipping lane. Over half of the world’s commercial shipping passes through the Indo-Pacific waterways.
China claims almost the whole of the South China Sea, resulting in overlapping claims with several other Asian nations like Vietnam and the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.
They accuse China of illegally reclaiming land in contested areas to create artificial islands with facilities that could potentially be for military use.
In October, USS Lassen, a guided missile destroyer, sailed within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island China is building in the Spratly Islands.
Meanwhile, the Chinese Foreign Ministry also came out with a separate statement, calling on the US to respect and abide by China’s laws, and not to undermine the mutual trust and regional peace and stability.
“The US warship violated Chinese law and entered China’s territorial sea without authorisation. The Chinese side conducted surveillance and vocal warnings to the US warship,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said.
Defence Ministry spokesman Yang claimed that China’s law on the territorial sea and contiguous zone accords with the international law and practice.
“The US side is fully aware of this, yet it still sent its warship into China’s territorial sea without authorisation. It is a deliberate provocation,” Yang said, adding that Chinese military “warned and expelled” the US warship from the South China Sea area “swiftly”.
The official Xinhua news agency reported that US’s move to send a warship close to the Zhongjian Dao has generated angry outcry from Chinese on the Internet.
“The Chinese people have every reason to feel offended,” it said, noting that many comments were “much more radical than the official response”.
“If this is the US way of being objective, fair and reasonable, there must be serious doubts about its sincerity to settle the issue and maintain regional peace,” the article said.
“Freedom of navigation and flyover in the South China Sea has never been a problem and will not be a problem,” it said.
“More than 100,000 vessels of various countries sail through the South China Sea with no incident every year. There is no logic that sending a warship to challenge China’s sovereignty and security will help to the situation, unless, peace and stability in the South China Sea is not the US objective,” it said.
“The South China Sea is decidedly not US waters. The US claims to be a bystander, but judging from its recent warship and aircraft activities, it is a bystander too eager to become involved,” it alleged.
The US has been “accustomed to hegemony and power politics, but the times have changed. Compromising sovereignty and security of another country under the name of freedom has lost its facade,” the article said.
As long as Washington stops operating under a “Cold War mentality and stops manipulating the issue to inhibit China’s development”, China will welcome its constructive role.
“With such provocation, the US will find itself alienated from extensive public opinion in China, and its commitment to peace and stability will be seriously eroded. People around the world have sharp eyes for that,” the article concluded.
The US yesterday said it sent a naval ship near a contested island in the South China Sea to challenge the “excessive maritime claims that restrict the rights and freedoms of the United States and others.”
“This operation challenged attempts by the three claimants, China, Taiwan and Vietnam, to restrict navigation rights and freedoms around the features they claim by policies that require prior permission or notification of transit within territorial seas,” Urban had said.
“The US takes no position on competing sovereignty claims between the parties to naturally formed land features in the South China Sea. The US does take a strong position on protecting the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea and airspace guaranteed to all countries, and that all maritime claims must comply with international law,” he had said.