Chinese warships and fighter jets sent to warn off US destroyer in South China Sea, Beijing says

Deployment made in response to unauthorised entry into China’s territorial waters, defence ministry says

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 July, 2017, 6:11pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 July, 2017, 11:21pm

Beijing sent warships and fighter jets to warn off a US naval destroyer that sailed close to a disputed island in the South China Sea, calling the passage a serious provocation that strained bilateral ties.

The latest “freedom of navigation” operation by the United States came just days before the leaders of the two countries are due to meet at a G20 summit in Germany.

According to the Chinese Defence Ministry, the USS Stethem, a guided-missile destroyer, made an “unauthorised entry” into China’s territorial waters near the Paracel Islands, on Sunday.

In response, China dispatched three warships, including the Luoyang and Suqian missile frigates, and two J-11B fighter jets, ministry spokesman Wu Qian said in a statement on Monday.

The US move “seriously damaged the strategic trust between China and the US, sabotaged the political atmosphere for a better military-to-military relations, put the safety of frontline officers and soldiers in danger and undermined the peace and stability in the region”, Wu said.

The USS Stethem passed less than 12 nautical miles (22km) from Triton Island, which is also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam, according to the Pentagon.

China condemns ‘serious provocation’ posed by US warship near South China Sea island

It was the second freedom of navigation operation the US military has carried out since US President Donald Trump took office in January. In late May, a US warship sailed within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef, which is part of the Spratly Islands and also claimed by China.

Trump is due to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg, later this week.

In a statement issued early Monday morning, foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang denounced the manoeuvre as a “serious political and military provocation”.

“The Chinese side strongly urges the US side to immediately stop such kind of provocative operations that seriously violate China’s sovereignty and threaten China’s security,” Lu was quoted by the official Xinhua News Agency as saying.

Beijing would continue to take all necessary steps to defend its sovereignty and security, he said.

Top Trump administration officials have repeatedly warned China over its military build-up on man-made islands in the disputed waters.

With a 30m wingspan and 2,450km range, this surveillance plane can cover the entire South China Sea

New satellite images show missile shelters and radar and communications facilities under construction on Fiery Cross, Mischief and Subi reefs in the Spratlys, according to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, part of Washington’s Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

In an editorial on Monday, the Global Times, a nationalist tabloid controlled by the Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily, said the US was playing “political games” in the South China Sea and such patrols would not stop construction.

“US provocations cannot change the present situation in the South China Sea,” it said.

Additional reporting by Reuters and Agence France-Presse