Chinese state media on Friday claimed the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) “expelled” an American destroyer, the USS Mustin, from the South China Sea near the Xisha Islands, known in the West as the Paracel Islands.
The U.S. military said China’s narrative of the incident was completely fabricated and the Mustin completed its mission without incident.
China’s Global Times belligerently restated Beijing’s claims to the region and blamed the U.S. Navy for “stirring up trouble”:
The USS Mustin, a US Navy guided missile destroyer, trespassed into the China’s territorial waters in the Xisha Islands on Thursday, and the PLA Southern Theater Command dispatched naval and air forces to track, identify and warn it leave, said Senior Colonel Li Huamin, a spokesperson for the PLA Southern Theater Command on early Friday.
The U.S. ignored the rules of the international law, repeatedly stirred up troubles in the South China Sea, exercised navigational hegemony in the name of “freedom of navigation,” seriously undermined China’s sovereignty and security interests, and severely sabotaged the international navigation order in the South China Sea, Li said.
China has indisputable sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and their adjacent waters in the region, and the command troops are always on high alert to resolutely protect national sovereignty and safeguard peace and stability in the region of the South China Sea, Li said.
The article went on at length about the superior surveillance capabilities the PLA has installed on disputed islands claimed by China, and the PLAN’s supposed ability to thwart “repeated U.S. military provocations,” which is somewhat difficult to square with the U.S. Navy’s cheerful determination to keep engaging in them.
The Chinese Defense Ministry on Friday complained about increasing American military operations in the South China Sea, which it said was putting sailors at risk and squandering America’s chance to “win over any hearts” in China.
“The Chinese military will adamantly safeguard national sovereignty, security and development interests, and resolutely maintain peace and stability in the region and the world. We hope some U.S. politicians can see the truth, be level-headed and stop these provocations, so that China-U.S. military relations and bilateral ties can return to their correct course,” a Defense Ministry spokesman said.
The U.S. Navy responded that China’s framing of the Mustin’s voyage is not true and the ship was not forced away from its planned course.
“The PRC’s statement about this mission is false. USS Mustin was not ‘expelled’ from any nation’s territory,” U.S. Pacific Fleet spokesman Lt. James Adams told Newsweek on Friday.
Adams said the Chinese statement was “the latest in a long string of PRC actions to misrepresent lawful U.S. maritime operations and assert its excessive and illegitimate maritime claims at the expense of its Southeast Asian neighbors in the South China Sea.”
According to Adams, the Mustin conducted a routine Freedom of Navigation Operation (FONOP) to uphold “the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law by challenging the unlawful restrictions on innocent passage imposed by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam and also by challenging China’s claim to straight baselines enclosing the Paracel Islands.” This was a reference to the competing territorial claims made by all three of those nations in the Paracels, which include demands that foreign ships must give advance notice before sailing near them.
“The United States will never bow in intimidation or be coerced into accepting illegitimate maritime claims, such as those made by the People’s Republic of China,” the Pacific Fleet spokesman concluded.
The U.S. Navy elaborated on Adams’ points in a statement quoted by USNI News:
All three claimants require either permission or advance notification before a military vessel or warship engages in ‘innocent passage’ through the territorial sea. The unilateral imposition of any authorization or advance-notification requirement for innocent passage is not permitted by international law.
By engaging in innocent passage without giving prior notification to or asking permission from any of the claimants, the United States challenged the unlawful restrictions imposed by China, Taiwan and Vietnam.
USNI News noted the Mustin’s FONOP was conducted the day after the PLA launched two “aircraft carrier killer” ballistic missiles into the South China Sea.
The missiles, in turn, were launched the day after Beijing complained about a U.S. Air Force U-2 reconnaissance plane allegedly violating the airspace near a PLA exercise. The United States said the U-2 operated within the boundaries of international law at all times.
A Chinese military museum on Friday published a letter inviting U.S. pilots to visit and see the wreckage of a U-2 plane shot down in the 1950s – in other words, a means of sarcastically threatening to shoot down more American planes in the future.
Some Chinese Internet users helped to spread the threat, sending copies of the letter to the U.S. Embassy’s social media account along with comments such as, “Welcome, it is OK if the U.S. wants to provide some new exhibits” and, “It is time to change to a newer U-2 for the museum.”