Beijing Protests US Navy Patrol in Sea 05/25 06:11
BEIJING (AP) -- China protested a U.S. Navy patrol that sent a guided
missile destroyer near a group of man-made islands in the South China Sea on
Thursday, in the first American challenge to Beijing's claims to the waters
since President Donald Trump took office.
China's Defense Ministry told reporters that it had sought an explanation
with U.S. officials over the incident, which Beijing said involved the USS
Dewey and took place around Mischief Reef, one of a chain of artificial islands
China has built and fortified to assert its claims over the strategic waterway.
While U.S. officials did not immediately comment on Thursday's operation,
Washington has in the past insisted that it has the right to conduct so-called
freedom of navigation operations, or FONOPS, in the area because it is in
international waters. The Navy conducted similar operations under former
President Barack Obama, but had not done so since Trump took office and began
talking up the prospect of warming ties with Beijing and cooperating over
issues like North Korea.
A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said the U.S. destroyer had
"trespassed" near islands over which China has "indisputable sovereignty."
"We urge the U.S. to correct this mistake and stop taking further actions so
as to avoid hurting peace and security in the region and long-term cooperation
between the two countries," Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said.
Defense Ministry spokesman Col. Ren Guoqiang told reporters at a monthly
news briefing that a pair of Chinese navy frigates had warned off the American
ship after it entered the area without China's permission.
"We urge the American side to take concrete efforts to correct its
wrongdoings and add more positive energy to the military-to-military
relationship," Ren said.
The spokesman added that the U.S. actions not only posed the risk of
sparking an accident at sea but would "only motivate the Chinese military to
enhance its capacity."
China claims virtually the entire South China Sea and has aggressively tried
to fortify its foothold in recent years by transforming seven mostly submerged
reefs into island outposts, some with runways and radars and --- more recently
--- weapons systems.
The work is opposed by the other claimants to the atolls and the United
States, which are wary of restrictions on ship movements in a key waterway for
world trade which boasts rich fishing grounds and a potential wealth of
undersea oil, gas and mineral deposits. An international tribunal last year
rejected most of China's claims to the waters and said its land reclamation was
aggravating tensions and violating the sovereignty of fellow claimant the
Philippines. China has ignored the ruling.
China contends the man-made islands are primarily for civilian purposes and
to increase safety for ships. It has said it won't interfere with freedom of
navigation or overflight, but there have been questions about whether that
includes military ships and aircraft.
A bipartisan group of U.S. senators earlier this month urged Trump to resume
freedom of navigation operations that had last been conducted in October. The
senators described the South China Sea as critical to U.S. national security
interests and to peace in the Asia-Pacific.
U.S. Defense Department spokesman Maj. Jamie Davis said in an emailed
statement that U.S. forces in the Asia-Pacific region would continue to conduct
freedom of navigation operations to "challenge excessive maritime claims in
order to preserve the rights, freedoms, and uses of the sea and airspace
guaranteed to all nations under international law."
Davis gave no details of Thursday's operation, saying summaries would only
be released in an annual report and adding that U.S. forces conducted such
operations last year to challenge claims by 22 coastal states, including allies
"U.S. forces operate in the Asia-Pacific region on a daily basis, including
in the South China Sea. All operations are conducted in accordance with
international law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail, and
operate wherever international law allows," Davis said.
"FONOPS are not about any one country, nor are they about making political