The endless back-and-forth of provocations between the US and China in the South China Sea continued apace on Thursday as Bejing condemned the latest US "freedom of navigation" operation near a set of disputed reefs in the South China Sea, according to the SCMP.
On Wednesday, the guided missile destroyer USS Wayne E. Meyer sailed within 12 nautical miles of Fiery Cross and Mischief reefs, the two biggest artificial islands - or, as Steve Bannon calls them, 'stationary aircraft carriers' - in the disputed Spratlys.
According to the SCMP, it was the first time an American warship had challenged two Chinese military outposts at once in a "freedom of navigation" operation. On Thursday, Senior Colonel Li Huamin, spokesman of the People’s Liberation Army's Southern Theater Command, accused Washington of "acting as a hegemony in ignorance of the international laws and rules" and urged itto stop its "provocative actions" to avoid an "unpredictable incident."
Suggesting that the mission almost resulted in a confrontation, Li said the PLA Navy and Air Force monitored and warned the destroyer, ultimately driving it out of Chinese territory.
Meanwhile, Reann Mommsen, a spokeswoman for US 7th Fleet, said US forces operated in the Indo-Pacific region on a daily basis, including in the South China Sea, and that these operations were simply to make sure the US can still operate in accordance with international law.
"All operations are designed in accordance with international law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail and operate whatever international law allows," she said.
Beijing claims most of the South China Sea, an area rich in resources and through which trillions of dollars in trade passes each year. Despite international court rulings contradicting this claim, Beijing has occupied the Paracel Islands, built up the Spratlys, and assigned significant military forces to them.
The US Navy has sent ships into waters around the Chinese-controlled islands and reefs on an almost monthly basis since the end of last year "to challenge excessive maritime claims."
"Our troops will [take] all necessary measures to resolutely defend national sovereignty and security and firmly safeguard the peace and stability in the South China Sea," Li said.
This has greatly angered Beijing, and contributed to the worsening tensions between the world's two largest economies. Beijing has regularly threatened military retaliation, and on at least one occasion nearly provoked a confrontation between US and Chinese ships.