United States warship sails near disputed shoal

Lu Kang

China has accused the United States of violating its sovereignty after a USA missile destroyer sailed near a disputed shoal in the South China Sea.

On the evening of January 17, the missile destroyer USS Hopper came within 12 nautical miles of Huangyan Island in the South China Sea, the ministry said on its website on Saturday.

China's navy warned the USA vessel to leave after conducting procedures to identify it, Lu said.

"China respects and safeguards the freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea for all countries in accordance with worldwide law, but resolutely opposes any country's move to impair China's sovereignty and security interests in the name of freedom of navigation and overflight", the spokesperson said.

"We strongly urge the U.S. side to immediately correct its mistake and stop making such provocative moves so as to avoid undermining China-U.S. relations and regional peace and stability".

In a statement, the Pentagon did not directly comment on the patrol but said the United States routinely carries out "freedom of navigation" operations, a summary of which would be released in an annual report. A spokesperson for the Pentagon told the outlet "all operations are conducted in accordance with global law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail, and operate wherever worldwide law allows".

"We hope that the United States will respect China's sovereignty, respect the efforts made by the countries within the region, and not cause trouble out of nothing or make waves", Defense Ministry spokesman Wu Qian said in a statement, adding that China would intensify its patrols in the air and at sea.

MalacaƱang won't meddle in the tiff between China and the United States over the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) even if the area is within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.

Scarborough Shoal
GettyAn aerial viewing of the disputed Huangyan island in the South China Sea

The complaint came within days of US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis' Friday assertion that the US military's top national security priorities are now countering China's rapidly expanding military and an increasingly aggressive Russian Federation.

The South China Sea has crucial shipping lanes, rich fishing grounds and potential oil, gas and other mineral deposits.

China, which has been reinforcing its hold on the disputed SCS with military installations in the shoals and reclaimed islands, claims sovereignty over nearly all of it.

FONOP is the military's term for freedom of navigation operations.

Twelve nautical miles from land is the internationally recognized territorial limit for all nations. But Panatag is a shoal although China calls it "Huangyan Island".

Scarborough Shoal is seen in a 2015 satellite photo.

China has been claiming nearly the entire South China Sea.

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