BANGKOK (AP) – The United States (US) denied Chinese claims yesterday that its military had driven away an American guided-missile destroyer from operating around disputed islands in the South China Sea as tensions rise in the region between the two powers.
The US Navy’s 7th Fleet said that a statement from China’s Southern Theatre Command that it had forced the USS Milius away from waters around the Paracel Islands was “false”.
“USS Milius is conducting routine operations in the South China Sea and was not expelled,” said Lieutenant Luka Bakic in response to a query from The Associated Press.
“The United States will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows,” Bakic added.
Bakic would not comment on whether the ship had been operating in immediate proximity of the Paracel Islands, which are in the South China Sea a few hundred kilometers (miles) off the coast of Vietnam and the Chinese province of Hainan, or whether there had been any sort of a confrontation.
Spokesperson for China’s Southern Theatre Command Colonel Tian Junli said earlier that the Chinese navy had followed and monitored the USS Milius after it “illegally entered China’s Xisha territorial waters without approval from the Chinese government, undermining peace and stability in the South China Sea”.
He said that the Chinese navy and air force then forced away “the US warship in accordance with the law”.
“The theatre troops will maintain a state of high alert at all times and take all necessary measures to resolutely safeguard national sovereignty, security as well as peace and stability in the South China Sea,” he said.
The US itself has no claims to the waters, but has deployed Navy and Air Force assets to patrol the waterway for decades.
Following the incident with the USS Milius, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters in Beijing that the US should immediately stop such violations and provocations.