The US military announced on Sunday that one of its warships, the USS Preble destroyer, sailed near the disputed Scarborough Shoal region of the South China Sea. The move further escalated tensions between the US and China amid a growing trade war.
Many believe that the move is likely related, at least in part, to China’s more aggressive stance on trade on Friday. It unveiled retaliatory tariffs in response to the US’s move to increase Chinese import levies from 10 percent to 25 percent.
“Preble sailed within 12 nautical miles of Scarborough Reef in order to challenge excessive maritime claims and preserve access to the waterways as governed by international law,” Commander Clay Doss, a spokesman for the Seventh Fleet, told Reuters.
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Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said that the ship had entered the waters without China’s permission and that its navy warned the USS Preble to leave.
“I must stress once again that the US warship’s relevant actions have violated China’s sovereignty and undermined the peace, security and good order in the relevant sea areas. China is firmly opposed to this,” said Kang in a news briefing from Beijing.
He added, “We strongly urge the United States to immediately stop such provocative actions so as not to undermine Sino-U.S. relations and regional peace and stability.”
Claiming The South China Sea
This marks the second US military operation in the South China Sea this month. The US Navy sought to downplay the significance of these operations on Wednesday when the US Navy chief said that its movements in the disputed South China Sea were drawing more attention than they deserved. In fact, the military’s longstanding position is that its operations throughout the world are completely separate from political considerations.
Instead, the most recent operation is meant to counter Beijing’s efforts to limit the US Navy’s freedom of navigation in strategic waters.
The United States has repeatedly criticized what it sees as the continued militarization of the South China Sea with the construction of military installation on artificial islands and reefs. China claims that it needs these installations for defense, blaming the US for escalating tensions by sending ships and plains near its islands.
The South China Sea has been growing into a major flashpoint for multiple countries. While China claims ownership over almost all the strategic regions in the area, the US, Japan and other Southeast Asian navies continue to operate in the region. Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have competing claims in the space.