US combat ship illegally enters territorial waters in South China Sea: Officials

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China’s military on Monday said a US combat ship illegally entered waters adjacent to the Second Thomas Shoal, a disputed South China Sea atoll.

“The US seriously undermined regional peace and stability,” said a spokesperson for China’s Southern Theater of Operations in a statement.

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The spokesperson also said the US deliberately disrupted the South China Sea and seriously violated China’s sovereignty.

A week earlier, China and the US exchanged accusations 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, the Chinese military deployed its naval and air forces to “track, monitor, and warn away” the US destroyer.

The US Navy said 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.

China said these incidents, “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.”

In November, 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.

With Reuters

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