Seoul, South Korea
The US and Chinese militaries exchanged harsh words on Tuesday after a US Navy warship conducted its first Offshore Navigation Operation (FONOP) in the South China Sea since then. The leaders of the two powers met Earlier this month in an effort to ease tensions.
In a statement, the Chinese military claimed that the USS Chancellorsville, a guided-missile cruiser, “illegally entered the waters near the Nansha Islands and Chinese reefs without the approval of the Chinese government.”
This move shows, according to China, that “the United States is a real producer of security risks in the South China Sea.” A statement from the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet later Tuesday called the People’s Liberation Army’s account “false” and continued misrepresentation of US actions in the South China Sea.
The confrontation is the first in the South China Sea since then US President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping He met in person on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Indonesia two weeks ago, according to a US Navy spokesperson.
After that meeting, Biden said he and Xi made progress in de-escalating tensions in some areas, but were nowhere near resolving a series of issues that helped push US-China relations to their lowest point in decades.
China claims “indisputable sovereignty” over all of the roughly 1.3 million square miles of the South China Sea as well as most of the islands within it, including the Nansha Islands, known outside of China as the Spratlys.
It is home to military installations that China has built on features claimed by other countries around the South China Sea, including the Philippines, a US treaty ally, and Vietnam.
Colonel Tian Junli, spokesman for the Southern Theater Command, said the People’s Liberation Army organized naval and air forces to follow, monitor, warn and eventually drive away the US warship.
China says this action by the US military “seriously violates China’s sovereignty and security” and is “conclusive evidence that the US seeks maritime hegemony and militarizes the South China Sea,” according to a statement on its official Weibo account.
In its statement, the US Navy said the US cruiser conducted Operation FONOP “in accordance with international law and then continued to conduct its normal operations in waters where the freedoms of the high seas apply.”
The behavior of the People’s Republic of China contradicts the United States’ commitment to international law and our vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific. The US statement added that all countries, large and small, must be secure in their sovereignty, free from coercion, and able to pursue economic growth in accordance with accepted international rules and norms.
Biden said he made this point to Xi in their meeting.
“I’ve been clear that we will stand up for American interests and values, we will stand up for universal human rights, we will stand up for the international system, and we will work apace with our allies and partners,” Biden said.
Tuesday’s FONOP is an early indication that Biden is not backing down on that promise.
“The operation reflects our commitment to upholding freedom of navigation and lawful uses of the sea as a matter of principle. The United States stands up for every nation’s right to fly, sail, and operate where international law allows, as the USS Chancellorsville did here. Nothing you say will deter us,” the US Navy statement said on Tuesday. People’s Republic of China (China) otherwise.”
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