China warns US after destroyer sails near controversial man-made islands
China reacted angrily yesterday after a US guided-missile destroyer sailed close to Beijing's man-made islands in the South China Sea.
Beijing said it warned and followed the American vessel as it vowed to "firmly defend its territorial sovereignty".
The USS Lassen passed within 12 nautical miles of at least one of the land formations Beijing has built inside the Spratly islands chain, a significant US challenge to China in one of the world's busiest shipping lanes.
US officials said the exercise was approved early yesterday near Subi and Mischief reefs, which were previously submerged at high-tide but have been transformed into islands following a massive dredging project.
"The American vessel USS Lassen illegally entered the related area in the South China Sea without seeking permission from the Chinese government," Lu Kang, foreign ministry spokesman, said in a statement.
"China will firmly defend its territory, sovereignty, security, and its lawful and proper maritime rights and interests," he said, adding: "China will firmly respond to deliberate provocations from any country."
Wang Yi, China's foreign minister, earlier said "we urge the US side to think twice, not to take rash moves and stir up trouble".
China claims most of the South China Sea, through which more than $5trillion of world trade passes every year. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan have rival claims. Territorial waters extend 12 nautical miles from the shore of states, but the US argues that the rule does not apply to artificial islands.
It has threatened in the past to send ships into the disputed waters as part of so-called freedom of navigation exercises.
Additional patrols would follow in coming weeks and could be conducted around features that Vietnam and the Philippines have built up in the Spratlys, a US official said.
Arthur Ding, a military expert based at Taiwan's National Chengchi University, said "strong nationalists" in Beijing are calling for Chinese vessels to confront US warships in the region.
"But if this is the case, it will give the rationale for the US to say that China is threatening, and that China is not complying with freedom of navigation.
"But if China does nothing, then President Xi Jinping will have to persuade the Chinese people why they are doing nothing," he said. (© Daily Telegraph London)