China, US exchange accusations over US vessel operating in South China Sea

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China and the United States exchanged accusations at the week-end over the disputed South China Sea, after China’s military said it had driven away a US warship that the US Navy said was on a routine freedom of navigation operation.

According to a post on the official WeChat social media account of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Southern Theatre Command on Saturday, the Chinese military deployed its naval and air forces to “track, monitor, and warn away” the US destroyer.

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The US Navy said on Sunday that the Hopper had “asserted navi-gational rights in the South China Sea near the Paracel Islands, consistent with international law.”

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, a conduit for more than $3 trillion of annual ship-borne commerce, including parts claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei. The Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2016 said China’s claims had no legal basis.

The Philippines and Australia began their first joint sea and air patrols in the sea on Saturday, days after Beijing accused Manila of enlisting foreign forces to patrol the South China Sea, referring to joint patrols by the Philippine and US militaries.

This weekend’s incident, China said, “proves that the United States is an out-and-out ‘security risk creator’ in the South China Sea.”

Lieutenant Kristina Weidemann, deputy spokesperson for the US 7th Fleet, said in an emailed statement: “The United States challenges excessive maritime claims around the world regardless of the identity of the claimant.

“Unlawful and sweeping maritime claims in the South China Sea pose a serious threat to the freedom of the seas.”

Earlier this month, the United States and China held talks on maritime issues, including the contested South China Sea, where the US underscored concerns about what it called “dangerous and unlawful” Chinese actions, the US State Department said.

Read more: China’s ‘aggressive behavior’ in South China Sea must be challenged: US Navy official

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