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China says US Navy ship ‘illegally intruded’ South China Sea

BEIJING (AP) — The Chinese military said that an American naval ship had “illegally intruded” on Monday into waters near the Second Thomas Shoal, the site of a hot territorial dispute between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea.

A Chinese naval force was mobilized to track the USS Gabrielle Giffords during the operation, according to a statement from the People’s Liberation Army Southern Theatre. The US Navy did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Chinese and Philippine naval and coast guard ships have confronted each other repeatedly around the Second Thomas Shoal in recent months as China tries to prevent the Philippines from resupplying and repairing a rusting warship that it intentionally ran aground in 1999 to serve as a military outpost.

Dwarfed by China’s military might, the Philippines has sought America’s help, agreeing to an expansion of the US military presence in the country earlier this year and launching joint sea and air patrols with the United States late last month.

China says the US is meddling in waters far from its shores and renewed its accusation that America is the one raising regional tensions following the sailing of the USS Giffords, a littoral combat ship designed to operate in coastal areas, near Second Thomas Shoal.

“The US deliberately disrupted the situation in the South China Sea, seriously violated China’s sovereignty and security, seriously undermined regional peace and stability, and seriously violated international law and basic norms governing international relations, fully demonstrating that the US is the biggest threat to peace and stability in the South China Sea,” the statement from the Chinese military’s Southern Theatre said.

China has staked claim to virtually all of the reefs and other outcroppings in the South China Sea, building some into islands with runways that could be used by the military. Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan also say they are the rightful owners of territory in the same waters in a complex web of overlapping claims.

In this handout photo released by Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippines BRP Jose Rizal (FF150) (right) and USS Gabriel Giffords (LCS 10) during a tactical exercise between Philippines and the United States in the West Philippine Sea on November 23. PHOTO: AP
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