US warship enters South China Sea waters for freedom op, leaves Beijing fuming
Even as the world focused on the impending trade war between the US and China, tension escalated in the disputed South China Sea region where the US on Friday, March 23, conducted its first freedom of navigation operation since January, inviting Beijing's wrath.
China said the entry of the American guided-missile destroyer named USS Mustin in the contentious waters was a "serious political and military provocation" and it was also "warned off" by two Chinese vessels.
Though sources in Beijing did not reveal the location where the American 'interference' took place, other reports quoted anonymous US officials to say that the destroyer had reached within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands to conduct the operations.
One of China's man-made islands in the Spratlys, Mischief Reef has a big airfield and other military facilities and an approach by the Americans in the zone had understandably upset Beijing.
The Americans, however, defended their activities saying they were in tune with the international law and that they operate in the region, including the South China Sea, daily. The spokesperson of US Pacific Fleet, Lt Cmdr Nicole Schwegman also said that the US would continue to do the same in the future as well. He said the freedom of navigation operation is not aimed at one country and nor is it an attempt to make a political statement.
Washington took a counter dig at Beijing over the latter's man-made islands in the South China Sea - some of which have military bases and weapons. It feels these Chinese outposts could severely restrict movement of cargo in the key passes, affecting global trade.
In Beijing's view, these establishments which are under China's sovereign control are meant for national defence.
Beijing has denied claims of neighbouring countries like the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei over the waters to virtually claiming the entire South China Sea and set up a series of outposts to create what the experts define "fully functioning air and naval bases".