(NewsGlobal.com)- The Chinese navy accused an American warship of trespassing in disputed waters in the South China Sea.
USS Chancellorsville, a Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser, “asserted navigational rights and freedoms” close to the Spratly Islands, an archipelago claimed by a half-dozen governments in the area but most vehemently by Beijing. This was according to the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet, based in Japan.
The freedom of navigation operation, or FONOP, was described as having ended after the USS Chancellorsville “exited the excessive claim region and continued operations in the South China Sea.”
The U.S. vessel “illegally entered” the waters close to the islands, which China refers to as Nansha, according to Tian Junli, a spokesperson for the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) Southern Theater Command. According to Tian, the Chinese navy and air forces followed and drove away the American ship.
In violation of a 2016 decision by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague that rejected these claims, China maintains maritime rights over practically all of the energy-rich South China Sea through its territorial claims to all islands and reefs in the region.
Tian asserted that China has sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and the waters around them.
An ongoing source of contention with other regional claimants is Beijing’s demand.
Vice President Kamala Harris stated that the 2016 decision to reject Beijing’s maritime claims was “legally binding and must be honored” while visiting the Philippines last week.
As one of Washington’s oldest friends in Asia, Manila would be held responsible for any attacks on Philippine forces in the South China Sea.
The Navy’s FONOP aboard the Chancellorsville was its third this year and its first since the middle of July. The same ship took part in transit of the Taiwan Strait in August, a different operation aimed at opposing Chinese claims to important international maritime channels.
China frequently doesn’t publicize cases in which the U.S. Navy challenges its claims in contested waters. It often makes statements in response to writings by the American military, which it accuses of infringing on Chinese sovereignty and posing dangers in the South China Sea.
China’s southern command chastised the United States for “quibbling” over the incident in a rare response to the Navy’s standard rebuttal. It posted pictures of a PLA Navy sailor watching the American warship during the operation.
The Seventh Fleet stated that China had distorted “lawful U.S. maritime actions” in the area in an update to its initial communiqué.