China protests ‘provocation’ after US sends two warships near South China Sea islands

The US officials said the Higgins guided-missile destroyer and the Antietam, a guided-missile cruiser, came within 12 nautical miles of the Paracel Islands, and China said it has responded to the ‘provocation’.

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 May, 2018, 5:16pm
UPDATED : Monday, 28 May, 2018, 12:50am

China’s Ministry of Defence accused the US of “serious infringement of Chinese sovereignty” after two American warships entered Chinese territorial waters and lodged protest against the provocation.

In a statement, the Chinese ministry said it has sent ships and aircraft to warn the US vessels and order them to leave, after it spotted their entrance into Chinese waters.

Two US Navy warships sailed near South China Sea islands claimed by China on Sunday, two US officials said, in a move likely to anger Beijing as US President Donald Trump seeks its continued cooperation on North Korea.

The US officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the Higgins guided-missile destroyer and the Antietam, a guided-missile cruiser, came within 12 nautical miles of the Paracel Islands, among a string of islets, reefs and shoals over which China has territorial disputes with its neighbours.

The US military vessels carried out manoeuvring operations near Tree, Lincoln, Triton and Woody islands in the Paracels, one of the officials said.

The Chinese defence ministry said the move has “undermined the strategic trust between the two countries’ military forces” but China has “unswerving” determination to safeguard its sovereignty and national security.

China’s foreign ministry also issued a statement, condemning the US.

“We express strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition to the U.S. side’s actions, and we strongly urge the U.S. to immediately stop such provocative actions that infringe upon China’s sovereignty and threaten China’s security,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

The sailing moves come days after US withdrew an invitation to China to attend a major US-hosted naval drill.

The Rim of the Pacific exercise, known as RIMPAC and previously attended by China, was billed as the world’s largest international maritime exercise and held every two years in Hawaii in June and July.

RIMPAC enabled the armed forces of the world’s two largest economies to directly engage with each other.

It was viewed by both countries as a way to ease tensions and reduce the risk of miscalculation should they meet under less friendly circumstances.

The Pentagon said the withdrawal of the invitation was in response to what it sees as Beijing’s militarisation of islands in the disputed South China Sea, a strategic waterway claimed in large part by Beijing.

China’s Defence Ministry said the United States had “ignored the facts and hyped up the so-called ‘militarisation’ of the South China Sea”, using it as an excuse to uninvite China.

China’s island-building programme in the South China Sea has sparked concern around the region and in Washington about Chinese intentions.

China says it has every right to build what it calls necessary defensive facilities on its own territory.

Last weekend China’s air force landed bombers on islands in the sea as part of a training exercise, triggering concern from Vietnam and the Philippines.

The ministry reiterated that its building of defence facilities was to protect the country’s sovereignty and legitimate rights, and had nothing to do with militarisation.