Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Simon Denyer — Washington Post July 2, 2017
China has accused the United States of staging a “serious political and military provocation” after an American warship sailed near a disputed island in the South China Sea.
The USS Stethem, an American guided-missile destroyer, sailed within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island, a small landmass in the Paracel Islands chain, on Sunday, a U.S. defense official said, marking the second such operation since President Trump took office.
But China, which has enjoyed de facto control of the Paracels since expelling Vietnam in a military engagement in 1974, said the islands, which it calls the Xisha, are an “inherent part of Chinese territory.”
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the Stethem had “trespassed” there, entering the waters “without China’s approval.”
“Its behavior has violated the Chinese law and relevant international law, infringed upon China’s sovereignty, disrupted peace, security and order of the relevant waters and put in jeopardy the facilities and personnel on the Chinese islands, and thus constitutes a serious political and military provocation,” spokesman Lu Kang said in a statement.
“The Chinese side is dissatisfied with and opposed to the relevant behavior of the U.S. side.”
The incident is the latest flare-up in relations in just a few days, and came only hours before Trump spoke by telephone to Chinese President Xi Jinping, on Sunday night in Washington and Monday morning in Beijing.
China’s state media said the two men discussed “brewing issues,” but gave no further information — except to say that North Korea was expected to top their agenda, while also noting the call came soon after an arms deal with Taiwan was announced.
Last week, China’s Foreign Ministry expressed outrage over twin American announcements: of a major package of arms sales to Taiwan, and fresh sanctions on North Korea that target a Chinese bank. Lu said then that the “wrong moves go against the consensus achieved at Mar-a-Lago,” when Trump and Xi met in Florida in April.
U.S. officials said the navy’s action, known as a freedom-of-navigation operation, or FONOP, was planned in advance, and was not targeted at any one country or aimed at making a political statement.
But China accused the United States of deliberately stirring up trouble in the South China Sea and staging “provocative operations” that violate China’s sovereignty and threaten its security. “The Chinese side will continue to take all necessary means to defend national sovereignty and security,” Lu said.