The Chinese military said it had tracked a US warship in the South China Sea on Thursday and “warned it to leave” waters claimed by Beijing.
The Southern Theater Command of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) said the USS Milius, a guided missile destroyer, on Thursday entered waters around the Paracel Islands, which are also claimed by Vietnam.
It further said the USS Milius illegally encroached into China’s territorial waters, without the consent of the government, undermining peace and stability in the area.
However, the US Navy described the report as false and debunked Chinese claims that the US destroyer was driven out from waters around the contested islands after it “illegally” entered the area.
China earlier intensified its “word war” with the US as Beijing warned the Philippines and other countries in the Indo-Pacific to be wary of what it considered as Washington’s coercive actions purportedly to advance its own interest in the region.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin made the statement after President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. announced that the new Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) sites, where US troops would have access to, would spread across the Philippines.
China claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea – a strategic waterway through which trillions of dollars in trade passes annually — despite an international court ruling that the assertion has no legal basis.
The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei all have overlapping claims in the sea, while the US sends naval vessels through it to assert freedom of navigation in international waters.
The PLA “organized sea and air forces to track and monitor (the ship) in accordance with the law” and “warned it to leave”, spokesperson Tian Junli said.
The vessel “made an illegal incursion into Chinese territorial waters… without permission from the Chinese government, harming peace and stability” in the region, he said.
While asserting their claims in the South China Sea, Chinese authorities in recent years have built artificial islands including some with military facilities and runways.
Regional nations have also accused Chinese vessels of harassing their fishing boats.
The Philippines has an existing Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) with the US, and a Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) to seek not only for military support but also for humanitarian assistance in various emergency situations.
However, the US maintained that it would invoke its MDT with Manila in case of any armed attack against the Philippine troops and their assets anywhere, including in the South China Sea.