The United States said on Dec. 4 that one of its Navy vessels was operating in the South China Sea in accordance with international law, rejecting China’s claim that the warship had “illegally” entered its territorial waters.
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has accused the USS Gabrielle Giffords—an Independence-class littoral combat ship—of undermining regional peace by violating China’s sovereignty in the disputed waterway.
The PLA said the ship moved into waters adjacent to the Renai Reef, also known as the Second Thomas Shoal—over which China claims sovereignty despite a 2016 United Nations tribunal ruling that it’s part of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
“The United States has deliberately disrupted the South China Sea, seriously violated China’s sovereignty and security, severely undermined regional peace and stability, and seriously violated international law and basic norms governing international relations,” the PLA stated.
“This fully illustrates that the U.S. is the biggest threat to peace and stability in the South China Sea.”
The U.S. Navy promptly denied the accusation, saying its vessel was conducting routine operations in international waters in the South China Sea, which it said is consistent with international law.
“Every day the U.S. 7th Fleet operates in the South China Sea, as they have for decades,” it stated, Reuters reported. “These operations demonstrate we are committed to upholding a free and open Indo-Pacific region.”
Hundreds of Chinese Boats Near Philippines
The incident occurred just a day after the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) deployed two ships to patrol Philippine-controlled regions, citing the “alarming” number of Chinese maritime militia boats in the Philippine EEZ.
The number of Chinese boats believed to be manned by militia personnel has increased to more than 135 from 111 in November, scattered within the Whitsun Reef, which the Philippine government calls the Julian Felipe Reef.
“No response was made to the radio challenges issued by the PCG to the [Chinese maritime militia] vessels which is now estimated to have grown to more than 135 vessels dispersed and scattered within Julian Felipe Reef,” the PCG said in a statement.
France Urges China to Reduce Tensions
Speaking at the Australian Press Club in Canberra, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna urged the regime in Beijing to play its part in reducing strains in the Asia-Pacific region amid tensions near Taiwan—a self-ruling island that China claims as its own.
“We are of course concerned by what happened a few days ago to the Australian navy, as well as what happened to the Philippines a few weeks ago,” Ms. Collona said, according to Agence France-Presse.
“Calm and stability must prevail in the Taiwan Strait, and certainly the world doesn’t need a new crisis.”
Beijing has asserted territorial claims over nearly the entire South China Sea, including reefs and islands that overlap with the EEZs of Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan, and the Philippines.
The 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, to which China is a signatory, designates maritime areas within 200 nautical miles of coastal nations’ borders as part of their EEZ. The Julian Felipe is 175 nautical miles west of the Philippines’ Palawan Island.
The Philippines’ position was recognized by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in a 2016 ruling. However, the Hague Tribunal’s ruling didn’t change the Chinese Communist Party’s behavior, with Chinese vessels repeatedly intruding on the Philippines’ maritime zones.
On Nov. 10, a China Coast Guard ship reportedly blasted a water cannon toward a Philippine motorboat delivering supplies to troops stationed at the Second Thomas Shoal.
Meanwhile, the United States has affirmed that it “stands shoulder-to-shoulder” with its Philippine ally in the face of China’s repeated harassment in the South China Sea and reiterated that any attack on a Philippine vessel could trigger a mutual defense treaty.
Reuters contributed to this report.
From The Epoch Times