China accused the United States of mocking its sovereignty after an American warship cruised near islands claimed by China in the disputed South China Sea, further disturbing relations between the two countries.
A Chinese destroyer appeared within meters of the U.S. Navy ship Sunday, forcing it to change direction in what American officials called an “unsafe and unprofessional” encounter.
China’s Defense Ministry countered that the USS Decatur should never have traveled through those waters in its “freedom of navigation” mission, provoking Beijing to order a Luyang-class warship to force it away from the Spratly Islands.
The USS Decatur guided-missile destroyer was conducting what the US Navy calls a “freedom of navigation operation” on Sunday when it passed within 12 nautical miles of Gaven and Johnson reefs in the remote Spratly Islands.
The 12-mile distance is commonly accepted as establishing the territorial waters of a landmass.
“The Chinese vessel took quick action and made checks against the U.S. vessel in accordance with the law, and warned it to leave the waters,” spokesman Wu Qian said in a statement.
The presence of American ships near the Chinese-claimed archipelago off the coast of the Philippines, Malaysia, and southern Vietnam is “seriously threatening China’s sovereignty and security” and “seriously undermining the relations between the two countries and the two militaries,” Wu added.
A statement Monday from the U.S. Pacific Fleet blasted the Chinese response as “aggressive.”
US-Chinese relations have been strained on multiple levels since Donald Trump became president in 2017 A trade war launched by Mr. Trump has infuriated Beijing, as did his authorization of a $1.3 billion arms sale to Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province.
China has taken a series of retaliatory measures, including abandoning a US warship’s port visit to Hong Kong and canceling a meeting between the head of the Chinese navy and his American counterpart.