Taipei: China claimed on Tuesday its military had "expelled" a US destroyer after it "trespassed" into Chinese territorial waters close to the Spratly Islands, in an escalation of tensions between Washington and Beijing over the South China Sea.
The statement by Senior Colonel Tian Junli, spokesman for the People's Liberation Southern Command, came shortly after the US Navy announced the USS John S McCain had asserted its "navigational rights and freedoms" in the disputed seas near the islands, "consistent with international law".
The incident occurred as Shandong, China's second aircraft carrier, was reported to be conducting drills in the region after sailing through the sensitive Taiwan Strait on Sunday.
The USS John S McCain Navy destroyer.Credit:US Pacific Command
The Chinese government claims sovereignty over most of the South China Sea, directly disputing the territorial claims of its smaller regional neighbours. The Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan have all laid claims to the Spratlys.
This year, Beijing has demonstrated its assertiveness over the energy-rich waters, prompting the US to denounce its "bullying behaviour" and step up its own freedom of navigation operations.
In July, Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, declared that Washington will consider Beijing's pursuit of resources in the South China Sea as illegal. Experts say the increased military presence from both sides has raised the risk of a clash, intentional or accidental.
Sailors salute the Chinese President at the launch of the Shandong, China’s first home-built aircraft carrier, last year.Credit:CGTN
On Saturday, the US navy broke its own record for the number of times it has sent a warship through the Taiwan Strait in a single year, with the guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin making the 13th transit through the 110 mile-wide waterway that separates China from Taiwan.
The US navy said China's "unlawful and sweeping maritime claims" posed "a serious threat to the freedom of the seas, including the freedoms of navigation and overflight, free trade and unimpeded commerce".
An estimated $5 trillion ($6.6 trillion) of international trade passes through the South China Sea every year, raising concerns that China could use access as a means of economic coercion.
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