BEIJING - Chinese warships have warned a US Navy destroyer to leave after it sailed close to the Xisha Islands in the South China Sea during a so-called “freedom of navigation” operation, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Wednesday.
The islands are an inherent part of Chinese territory, said spokesperson for the ministry Hua Chunying, noting that Beijing has lodged "solemn representations" with the US side over the incident.
Beijing urges Washington to respect China’s sovereignty and security interest, Hua stressed, adding that the Chinese side will continue to take all necessary means to defend the country’s sovereignty and maritime rights and interests.
The USS Chafee, a US Navy destroyer /Reuters Photo
US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the USS Chafee, a guided-missile destroyer, sailed near the Xisha Islands, a string of islets, reefs and shoals, on Tuesday.
It is the fourth "freedom of navigation operation" since Donald Trump's inauguration as US president in January. Tuesday's operation comes before Trump's visit to China next month as the US is seeking China 's cooperation to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
In accordance with the Law of the People's Republic of China on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone, the Chinese government promulgated the baseline of the territorial sea off the Xisha Islands in 1996, Hua said.
China 's Defense Ministry also protested the US action on Wednesday afternoon, saying the US Navy destroyer's action violated Chinese and international law, and threatended Chinese sovereignty and security.
The Chinese Navy sent out the frigate Huangshan, two fighter jets and a helicopter as emergency response to warn the US destroyer to leave, according to the Defense Ministry.
“As China-US military ties are at an important stage at the present, we urge the US side to take concrete measures to correct mistakes and inject positive energy into development of China-US relations,” the ministry said in a statement.