On Wednesday, a US warship cruised near the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, prompting a furious response from Beijing, which claimed its navy “driven away” the ship after it unlawfully entered Chinese waters.

The US conducts what it terms Freedom of Navigation Operations in the South China Sea on a regular basis, disputing what it claims are limitations on innocent passage imposed by China and other claimants.

Monday marked the sixth anniversary of an international tribunal judgement that invalidated China’s expansive claims to the South China Sea, which serves as a conduit for over $3 trillion in ship-borne commerce each year.

The judgement has never been acknowledged by China.

The destroyer USS Benfold “asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the South China Sea near the Paracel Islands, consistent with international law” according to the US Navy.

China claims it does not obstruct freedom of navigation or overflight, accusing the US of purposefully inciting tensions.

The activities of the US ship, according to the People’s Liberation Army’s Southern Theatre Command, significantly infringed China’s sovereignty and security by unlawfully entering China’s territorial seas near the Paracels, which are also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan.

The Chinese statement was “false” according to the US Navy, and was the latest in a long line of Chinese activities to “misrepresent lawful U.S. maritime operations and assert its excessive and illegitimate maritime claims at the expense of its Southeastern Asian neighbours in the South China Sea”

The US is protecting every country’s freedom to fly, sail, and operate anywhere international law permits, and nothing China says “says otherwise will deter us” according to the statement.

In 1974, China took sovereignty of the Paracel Islands from the then-South Vietnamese government.

Later that day, the US Navy confirmed in a second statement that the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group was also operating in the South China Sea, calling such carrier activities “routine”

According to the carrier group, maritime security activities include flying operations, maritime strike drills, and coordinated tactical training involving surface and air forces.

Monday marked the sixth anniversary of an international tribunal judgement that invalidated China’s expansive claims to the South China Sea, which serves as a conduit for over $3 trillion in ship-borne commerce each year.

Source: Reuters

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