China is fuming after the US Navy on Wednesday sailed a destroyer near the China-controlled Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. The Navy's 7th fleet said that the guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold was in the region and passed near the disputed island chain to uphold "the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea."
China's Southern Theater Command, however, said it closely monitored the American vessel as it had "illegally entered" China's territorial waters. The PLA military said it drove the warship away.
The Chinese military statement said in reference to the USS Benfold that it "organized naval and air forces to track and monitor it, send warnings and drive it away."
Beijing has in recent years used its network of small military outposts on the South China's Sea's many island-chains, including on its series of 'man-made' island, to lay claim to the entirety of the waters which are rich in fish and underground mineral resources, and through which trillions of dollars worth of global trade passes through each year.
But regional powers, US allies among them, including the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan, also lay claim to many of the islands and surrounding South China Sea waters.
But the Chinese military statement aimed at Washington made clear what Beijing sees as its own:
"On July 13, the U.S. guided missile destroyer Benfold illegally broke into China’s Paracel territorial waters without the approval of the Chinese government," Tian Junli, the spokesperson for the Chinese military’s Southern Theatre Command, said in a statement.
"The actions of the U.S. military have seriously violated China's sovereignty and security, seriously undermined the peace and stability of the South China Sea, and seriously violated international law and norms of international relations," protested the Chinese military in the statement.
The US Navy statement following the sail-by addressed Chinese claims head on, condemning the "sweeping maritime claims" as posing a "serious threat" to freedom of navigation.
"Unlawful and sweeping maritime claims in the South China Sea pose a serious threat to the freedom of the seas, including the freedoms of navigation and overflight, free trade and unimpeded commerce, and freedom of economic opportunity for South China Sea littoral nations," the US Navy 7th Fleet statement said further.
Meanwhile, in the nearby East China Sea, Russia and China have been upping their cooperation, which US ally Japan has found particularly alarming given recent sailing routes of their military ships.
"A recent uptick in Chinese and Russian military activities near Japan appears to signal that the partners could boost cooperation in an effort to intimidate Tokyo as tensions mount over Taiwan and Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine," a fresh report in Japan Times finds. "After five Russian Navy vessels sailed around most of Japan last month, three other Russian warships – a destroyer, a frigate and a supply ship – have been circumnavigating the archipelago since mid-June, entering the 24 nautical mile contiguous zone around the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands in early July."
SINO-RUSSIAN PROVOCATION— Nikkei Asia (@NikkeiAsia) July 13, 2022
Chinese and Russian military activity around Japan increased 2.5 times in the four months following Russia's invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, according to reports by the Japanese Defense Ministry.https://t.co/8FU3kH1CJd
Unlike US and Chinese semi-regular confrontation near Taiwan and elsewhere in the South China Sea, this recent China-Russia naval activity "One of the warships was spotted entering these waters at about the same time as a Chinese frigate, marking the first time this happened since June 2016 and prompting Tokyo to lodge a protest with Beijing — which also claims the uninhabited islets in the East China Sea," the Japan Times report notes.