According to US Navy officials, Beijing’s claim that it drove away one of its warships that passed through the disputed Paracel Islands on Monday is “false.”
The USS Benfold conducted a maneuver near the small archipelago, located east of Vietnam and south of China, earlier today, which the US Navy described as “consistent with international law.”
Chinese authorities retaliated, claiming they were able to drive the warship away from the disputed islands.
According to reports, China’s military said on Monday that it “drove away” the USS Benfold, which Beijing claimed had entered its waters illegally. The US Navy, on the other hand, responded with a fiery statement of its own, calling Beijing’s version of events “false.”
“The PRC’s (People’s Republic of China’s) statement about this mission is false,” according to a statement issued by the US 7th Fleet public affairs on Monday.
The USS Benfold carried out this FONOP (freedom of navigation operation) in accordance with international law before returning to normal operations in international waters. The operation demonstrates our commitment to the principle of freedom of navigation and lawful uses of the sea. “The US will continue to fly, sail, and operate wherever international waters permit, as the USS Benfold did here.” Nothing the PRC says will deter us.”
“The PLA(N[Liberation )’s People’s Army Navy] statement is the latest in a long string of PRC actions to misrepresent lawful US maritime operations and assert its excessive and illegitimate maritime claims at the expense of its Southeast Asian neighbors in the South China Sea,” the statement continued. “The PRC’s behavior contrasts with the US’ adherence to international law and our vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region. All nations, large and small, should have confidence in their sovereignty, be free from coercion, and be able to pursue economic growth in accordance with accepted international rules and norms.”
While the Paracel Islands are under China’s de facto administration, Taiwan and Vietnam both claim sovereignty over them.
The Paracel Islands are located in the hotly contested South China Sea, much of which China has made bold claims to. However, in 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled that China lacked historic title to the South China Sea, a decision that Beijing has stated it will not accept.
Controversial Last month, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, who has courted Chinese officials, said the court ruling against China was “just a piece of paper.”
Beijing has claimed hundreds of islands in the resource-rich South China Sea, which officials claim fall within its so-called nine-dash line, which was drawn on pre-war Chinese maps of the region and is said to show Beijing’s sea claims. According to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, the South China Sea has an estimated 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 11 billion barrels of oil in proved and probable reserves, with more potentially discovered.
This dispute has prompted the United States Navy to dispatch several warships to the region in an effort to support allies in the region while also containing Chinese ambitions.
In May, the USS Curtis Wilbur conducted a freedom of navigation operation near the Paracel Islands, which Beijing described as “illegal entry” into its territorial waters.