China has claimed that a US naval ship has “illegally intruded” its South China Sea territorial waters.
A Chinese naval force was mobilised to track the USS Gabrielle Giffords on Monday when it ventured near the waters of the Second Thomas Shoal, Beijing said. The reef is part of the Spratly Islands, an area that is the centre of a territorial dispute between China and the Philippines.
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“The US deliberately disrupted the situation in the South China Sea,” the People’s Liberation Army Southern Theater asserted in a statement.
The release also accused the United States of “seriously [violating] China’s sovereignty and security … [undermining] regional peace and stability, and … [of violating] international law and basic norms governing international relations.”
Second Thomas Shoal, known as Ayungin Shoal in the Philippines, lies about 195km (121 miles) northwest of the Philippine province of Palawan. It has been the site of several incidents this year as Manila has sought to resupply a rusting warship that it intentionally ran aground in 1999 to serve as a military outpost.
The US military has responded to China’s accusations, saying that the USS Gabrielle Giffords “was conducting routine operations in international waters … consistent with international law”.
Command of the sea
Manila accuses Beijing of aggressive efforts to assert its territorial ambitions. Dwarfed by China’s military might, the country has sought support from US forces, the major military power patrolling the important shipping lanes and fishing grounds in the South China Sea.
With a strong interest in maintaining a dominant presence in these waters, the US has worked with the Philippines in exchange for an expansion of the US military presence in the country.
Earlier this year, the two countries launched the largest-ever military drills, which took place near the Second Thomas Shoal, and last month the two militaries began sea and air patrols in the area.
China insists the US is meddling in waters far from its shores and renewed its accusation that America is the one raising regional tensions.
The actions of the US ship demonstrated “that the US is the biggest threat to peace and stability in the South China Sea”, the statement from the Chinese military’s Southern Theater said.
The US Navy’s 7th Fleet, based in Japan, said its operations in the South China Sea demonstrate a commitment “to upholding a free and open Indo-Pacific region where all nations, large and small, are secure in their sovereignty, can resolve disputes without coercion, and have the freedom to navigate and fly consistent with international laws, rules and norms”.
The Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam have all staked claims to various islands and reefs in the sea, which is believed to have rich petroleum reserves deep beneath its bed.