China displeased by US ship's South China Sea passage

Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey transits the South China Sea May 6, 2017. (Reuters file photo)

BEIJING -- China has expressed its "strong dissatisfaction" over the US Navy's latest freedom of navigation operation, in which a warship sailed past one of China's man-made islands in the strategic South China Sea.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in a statement late on Thursday that the US move "severely undermines China's sovereignty and security, and severely endangers the safety of frontline personnel of both sides''.

China claims virtually the entire South China Sea and routinely protests against such operations, which President Donald Trump's administration has continued partly to reassure allies locked in territorial disputes with Beijing.

"China has the firm determination to safeguard its territorial sovereignty and maritime interests,'' Mr Geng said. The US move would "compel China to take measures to further raise its capacity to defend national territory'', he said.

A US naval official told The Associated Press  the destroyer USS John S. McCain sailed past Mischief Reef on Thursday, but gave no other details. US officials say the military will continue to sail, fly and operate wherever permitted by international law.

According to Mr Geng, the Chinese navy "identified the US warship, warned and expelled it''.

China and the US maintain different interpretations on international law as applied to the operation of warships, and Beijing has ignored a Hague arbitration court's ruling that invalidated much of its South China Sea claim.

Tensions escalated after China began to build seven reefs, including Mischief, into islands, including three with runways, which the US and China's neighbours fear could be used to project Beijing's military might and potentially obstruct freedom of navigation.

China has reportedly installed a missile defence system on the new islands, although Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Monday that China had "stopped or already completed land reclamation'' on the islands two years ago.

Earlier, Mr Wang said talks on a nonaggression pact aimed at preventing clashes from erupting in the South China Sea may start this year if "outside parties'' do not cause a major disruption, in an apparent reference to Washington and allies such as Japan.

The US is not a party to the disputes in the busy and potentially oil- and gas-rich waters that also involve Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. Washington, however, has declared it in its interest to ensure that the conflicts are resolved peacefully and that freedom of navigation and overflight remain unhampered. An estimated $5 trillion in annual trade passes through the waterway.

Washington's critical actions came as it courts the help of China, North Korea's ally, in taming Pyongyang's nuclear weapons ambitions and ending its missile tests.

Back to top