In a bizarre exchange of what may or may not be fake news, today China's Global Times claimed that the Chinese People's Liberation Army "expelled a US warship that trespassed into China's territorial waters in the Xisha Islands in the South China Sea on Thursday, near an ongoing Chinese military exercise zone that reportedly featured live-fire anti-ship ballistic missile launches."
The USS Mustin, a US Navy guided missile destroyer, trespassed into the China's territorial waters in the Xisha Islands on Thursday, and the PLA Southern Theater Command dispatched naval and air forces to track, identify and warn it leave, said Senior Colonel Li Huamin, a spokesperson for the PLA Southern Theater Command on early Friday.
The report went on to say that "the US ignored the rules of the international law, repeatedly stirred up troubles in the South China Sea, exercised navigational hegemony in the name of "freedom of navigation," seriously undermined China's sovereignty and security interests, and severely sabotaged the international navigation order in the South China Sea."
The allegation sparked an immediate response from the US military which said that the Global Times claimed was "without evidence" or basically fake news. According to American Military News, the 7th Fleet confirmed the destroyer performed a freedom of navigation operation despite Chinese territorial claims to the island chain.
The press release comes after China’s Global Times state media outlet reported Chinese People’s Liberation Army claims, without evidence, that they expelled the U.S. warship.
The 7th Fleet stated, “On Aug. 27 (local date), USS Mustin (DDG 89) asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the vicinity of the Paracel Islands, consistent with international law. This freedom of navigation operation (“FONOP”) upheld the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law by challenging the unlawful restrictions on innocent passage imposed by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam and also by challenging China’s claim to straight baselines enclosing the Paracel Islands.
The 7th Fleet statement makes no references to challenges by Chinese forces in the area in which the FONOP occurred. Still, the Global Times quoted PLA Senior Colonel Li Huamin, who said the PLA Southern Theater Command dispatched naval and air forces to track, identify and warn the ship to leave but Li provided no evidence the U.S. warship acted in any way outside of its planned operations.
The US military also accused Li of making similar false comments in past U.S. FONOPs around the Paracel Islands.
In his statements Thursday, Li said, “The U.S. ignored the rules of the international law, repeatedly stirred up troubles in the South China Sea, exercised navigational hegemony in the name of ‘freedom of navigation,’ seriously undermined China’s sovereignty and security interests, and severely sabotaged the international navigation order in the South China Sea.” He added that "we urge the US to stop this kind of provocative action, to strictly manage maritime and aerial military operations and strictly restrain its frontline troops, so as to avoid accidents."
Separately, the U.S. Department of Defense issued a statement Thursday, criticizing Chinese ballistic missile launches near the Paracel Islands.
“U.S. forces operate in the South China Sea on a daily basis, as they have for more than a century,” the 7th Fleet states. “They routinely operate in close coordination with like-minded allies and partners who share our commitment to uphold a free and open international order that promotes security and prosperity. All of our operations are designed to be conducted in accordance with international law and 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."