Second confrontation in two days between US and Chinese ships in South China Sea
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A US Navy destroyer sailed near the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, sparking another confrontation between the US and China for the second straight day.
The first confrontation took place on Thursday when the USS Milius guided-missile destroyer sailed near the group of islands.
On Friday, the ship was spotted again in the vicinity of the islands, as part of a “freedom of navigation operation” challenging requirements from China, Taiwan and Vietnam, which require prior notification or permission before a military vessel can pass through.
All three nations claim the strategic waterway.
China said on Friday that the US action violated its sovereignty and security, saying its navy and air force had forced the US vessel away, something the US military denied. Beijing also warned the US of “serious consequences”.
The latest incident comes as tensions between the US and China have fallen to new lows.
“The United States challenges excessive maritime claims around the world, regardless of the identity of the claimant,” said Luka Bakic, spokesman for the US 7th Fleet.
China’s Ministry of National Defense responded by accusing the US of “undermining the peace and stability of the South China Sea”.
“The act of the US military seriously violated China’s sovereignty and security, seriously violated international laws, and is more ironclad evidence of the US pursuing navigational hegemony and militarizing the South China Sea,” said Tan Kefei, spokesman for the ministry, said.
He said China would take “all necessary measures” to ensure security, but did not elaborate.
In recent years, China has become increasingly assertive in the region, prompting the US to push back.
The issue has long been a source of tension between the two nations. The other issues countries have bickered over include Taiwan’s independence, human rights charges against China and the origins of the Covid pandemic.
Recently, a Chinese balloon that the US accused China of using for surveillance was shot down by the former, further escalating tensions.
The US maintains that its actions in the South China Sea are justified under international law.
“The operation reflects our commitment to maintain freedom of navigation and lawful use of the sea for all nations,” Mr Bakic said.
The South China Sea is an important waterway for global trade, with approximately $5 trillion in trade passing through each year. In addition, the area has valuable fish stocks and undersea mineral resources.
China’s claims to the region have frequently brought it into conflict with other nations, including the Philippines. Philippine diplomats have recently protested China’s aggressive behavior, including targeting a Philippine coast guard ship with a powerful military laser.
The US has been present in the South China Sea for more than a century and its forces are currently operating there on a daily basis.
In 2016, a UN-backed arbitration tribunal ruled that China’s historic claim to the waters had no legal basis under the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Tensions between the US and China continue to escalate in the region despite the ruling.
Additional reporting by agencies