USS Benfold ‘illegally trespassed’ into Chinese waters in move that undermined regional peace, Beijing claimed
The Chinese military “drove away” a US destroyer reportedly sailing near the Paracel (Xisha) Islands in the South China Sea, The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Southern Theatre Command said on Wednesday.
Beijing claims the guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold “illegally trespassed into Chinese territorial waters”. In response “the PLA’s Southern Theatre Command organized sea and air forces to follow, monitor, warn and drive away” the ship, according to a PLA statement.
“The facts once again show that the United States is nothing short of a ‘security risk maker in the South China Sea’ and a ‘destroyer of regional peace and stability,’” it added.
Meanwhile, the US Navy’s 7th Fleet confirmed that its destroyer cruised past the islands, saying that it “asserted navigational rights and freedoms” in a move consistent with international law. One of its goals was to challenge “restrictions on innocent passage” imposed by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
“Unlawful and sweeping maritime claims in the South China Sea pose a serious threat to the freedom of the seas, including the freedoms of navigation and overflight, free trade and unimpeded commerce, and freedom of economic opportunity for South China Sea littoral nations”, it stated, referring to territorial disputes in the area.
This is not the first time that the USS Benfold cruised in the area near the Paracel Islands. In January, having detected the destroyer, Beijing’s military scrambled, dispatching forces to “warn off” the American warship.
Sovereignty over the Paracel Islands is claimed by China, Vietnam, and Taiwan, although Beijing de-facto controls the archipelago. The South China Sea has long been a point of contention between the US and China, especially around Taiwan. Although Washington does not claim any territories in the region, it has declared its commitment to a “free and open Indo-Pacific.”