PortandTerminal.com, April 28, 2020
A U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer, the USS Barry, sailed through international waters Tuesday in the South China Sea to challenge unlawful restrictions imposed by China, Taiwan and Vietnam. This upset China a great deal.
BEIJING – The Chinese military has accused an American guided-missile destroyer of “intruding into Chinese territory waters” near the Beijing-controlled Paracel Islands, saying the “provocative act” violated Chinese sovereignty.
The Paracel Islands, known as the Xisha Islands in China and the Hoang Sa Archipelago in Vietnam, is a group of more than 30 islands in the South China Sea located between the coastlines of Vietnam and China. They are currently controlled by China but also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam.
“On April 28, the guided-missile destroyer USS Barry asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the Paracel Islands, consistent with international law,” Lt. j.g. Rachel McMarr, a Pacific Fleet spokesperson said.
“By engaging in innocent passage without giving prior notification to or asking permission from any of the claimants, the United States challenged the unlawful restrictions imposed by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam,” McMarr also said in an email statement. “The United States demonstrated that innocent passage may not be subject to such restrictions.”
The Chinese though didn’t see it that way.
“Provocative acts by the US side”
The People’s Liberation Army’s Southern Theatre Command, which oversees the South China Sea, said the USS Barry destroyer intruded into “waters around the Paracel Islands without permission” on Tuesday, prompting the command to scramble air and sea patrols to “track, monitor, verify, identify and expel” it.
“These provocative acts by the US side … have seriously violated China’s sovereignty and security interests, deliberately increased regional security risks and could easily trigger an unexpected incident,” a statement posted on the military unit’s WeChat social media account quoted Li Huamin, a command spokesman, as saying.
“[The acts] were incompatible with the current atmosphere as the international community is fighting pandemic … as well as the regional peace and stability.”
China claims almost all of the South China Sea, waters where Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia also have claims.
What’s causing the latest flare-up?
Tensions in the region have worsened in the last month with a war of words between Beijing and Washington over the coronavirus pandemic. In the exchanges, US Defence Secretary Mark Esper criticised Beijing of failing to share information about the pandemic while Beijing accused Washington of dismissing China’s efforts to control the contagion.
Rather than joining forces to contain the pandemic, both sides have increased their military presence in the Taiwan Strait, as well as the South and East China seas.
On April 22, the Yokosuka-based USS Barry transited the Taiwan Strait before heading to the South China Sea. A day later, the PLA’s aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, led its strike group through the strait.
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