US Navy warships just challenged China with a South China Sea sail-by operation, and Beijing is furious

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  • Two US Navy destroyers conducted a freedom-of-navigation operation in the South China Sea on Monday, challenging China’s claims to the Spratly Islands.
  • Beijing accused the US of entering Chinese waters without permission and engaging in provocations that threaten China’s sovereignty.
  • It was the second such US operation in the South China Sea this year.
  • Freedom-of-navigation operations occur frequently, but they have not stopped China from bolstering its position militarily in the South China Sea.

The US Navy sent two guided-missile destroyers to challenge China in the South China Sea, and Beijing is outraged.

Two Arleigh Burke-class destroyers – the USS Spruance and the USS Preble – conducted a freedom-of-navigation operation on Monday, sailing within 12 nautical miles of Chinese outposts in the contested Spratly Islands.

The purpose was “to challenge excessive maritime claims and preserve access to the waterways,” as well as to show that the US “will fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows,” Cmdr. Clay Doss, a US Navy 7th Fleet spokesman, told CNN.

Beijing sharply criticised the operation. A spokeswoman for the Chinese foreign ministry, Hua Chunying, accused the US of entering Chinese waters without permission and engaging in provocations that threaten China’s sovereignty, the South China Morning Post reported.

China’s claims to the South China Sea were largely discredited by an international arbitration tribunal three years ago. Beijing rejected the ruling and the authority of the tribunal.

The Chinese military has since bolstered its presence in the region through deploying surface-to-air missiles, anti-ship missiles, jamming technology, and other defence systems to Chinese-occupied territories.

Monday’s sail-by is the second US freedom-of-navigation operation in the South China Sea this year. In mid-January, U.S. and British warships conducted military exercises in the South China Sea for the first time since China fortified its islands there. The U.S. has also ramped up its solo FONOPs, including an operation early last month that saw one of its destroyers pass near the Paracel Island chain, north of the Spratlys, in the South China Sea.

Just a day after that operation, Chinese state-run media announced that Beijing’s so-called carrier killer anti-ship missile had been deployed to the country’s northwest — a move that it appeared to link to missions in the South China Sea.

The missile, known as the DF-26, reportedly has a range of 3,000-4,000 km, and the report alluded to the U.S. operations, quoting an unidentified expert as noting that it served as “a good reminder that China is capable of safeguarding its territory.”

“Even when launched from deeper inland areas of China, the DF-26 has a range far-reaching enough to cover the South China Sea,” the expert said.

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China then accused the US of trespassing, and Chinese media announced it had deployed a “far-reaching anti-ship ballistic missile,” the DF-26, that was “capable of targeting medium and large ships.”


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The US has also sailed warships through the Taiwan Strait, drawing Beijing’s ire.

During a South China Sea freedom-of-navigation operation in September, a Chinese destroyer challenged a US vessel to a showdown, forcing the US Navy ship off course and risking a deadly collision.

The Chinese foreign ministry on Monday said the People’s Liberation Army Navy sent vessels to track the US warships sailing near the Spratlys and warned them to leave the area.

The US Navy, however, has stressed that it’s not going anywhere. “We’ve got big interests there, so we’re going to remain there,” Adm. John Richardson, the chief of naval operations, said recently.

Source: CNN/BusinessInsider/South China Morning Post

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