US Warship Challenge Chinese Occupied Territory in West Philippine Sea

China on Friday accused the United States of provocative after two separate occasions in a single week, U.S. warships sailed near the islands maintained by Beijing.

The U.S. Navy has sent warships on two events in recent days near islands maintained by Beijing in the disputed South China Sea. USS Gabrielle Giffords littoral combat ship sailed nearby Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands Wednesday.

“USS Gabrielle Giffords demonstrated that Mischief Reef, a low-tide altitude in its normal state, is not eligible for a territorial sea under international law.” On Thursday, the USS Wayne E. Meyer guided-missile destroyer sails to Paracel Islands, USS Wayne E. Meyer challenged the limitations on innocent passage in the Paracel Islands.

China dispatched army vessels to identify and monitor the U.S. ships and warned them to leave, the People’s Liberation Army Southern Theater Command said in a statement Friday.

Mommsen said the operation was developed to”demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows — regardless of the location of excessive maritime claims and regardless of current events” Washington and Beijing are locked in a bruising trade warfare and have tussled over diplomatic issues, including a bill passed by the U.S. Congress this week in support of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

USS Gifford Live Fire Test @ Philippine Sea
U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Shannon Renfroe

China has built numerous army outposts on atolls and the islands of the area, angering other claimants and has laid claim to nearly all the South China Sea. In recent months, the U.S. military has stepped up its freedom of navigation operations or”FONOPS” from the area, irking Beijing, although not igniting any direct confrontation so far.

China has drawn a nine-dash line across all of the Paracels archipelagoes to maintain the whole territory.

USS Gifford Maneuver Test @
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Anthony J. Rivera

Beijing maintains much of the South China Sea, although the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Brunei have overlapping claims in the waters, where the Chinese, U.S., Japanese, and a few Southeast Asian navies routinely operate.

Neither Japan nor the U.S. has claimed in the oceans, but both allies have routinely stated their commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific.

The busy waterway is simply one of many flashpoints in the U.S.-China relationship, which includes an ongoing trade war, pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, also support for Taiwan.