Beijing: China’s military has warned freedom of navigation patrols by the United States in the South China Sea will cause it to boost Chinese defence capacity in the disputed waters.
China issued the rebuke on Friday after the USS John S McCain a day earlier conducted the US Navy’s third freedom of navigation patrol since the Trump administration took office.
The Chinese military “immediately sent out warships” with two missile frigates identifying the US naval destroyer and warning it away from Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands, which China calls the Nansha Islands, according to China’s foreign ministry.
China’s Defence Ministry said it expressed its strong opposition to the United States for the “show of force”.
“US military provocation will only encourage the Chinese military to further strengthen its defence capacity building and firmly defend national sovereignty,” a defence statement read.
A Chinese Defence spokesman said the incident had “seriously damaged the strategic mutual trust between two sides”.
It comes as Donald Trump has urged China to do more to solve a worsening stand-off with North Korea over its nuclear weapons program.
More significantly, the latest US naval patrol comes days after a meeting of China and ASEAN foreign ministers in the Philippines had agreed a framework for a code of conduct in the South China Sea which is contested by multiple claimants including China, Vietnam, Malaysia,Taiwan and the Philippines.
The US, Australia and Japan had issued a statement at ASEAN opposing “coercive unilateral action” and any militarisation of the islands – after Vietnam failed in a push to have the code of conduct be legally binding. China’s Global Times newspaper labelled Australia, Japan and the US “a little bit bad” after their statement.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned against “outside interference” in the negotiations, and claimed China had finished land reclamation on islands two years ago.
An analysis by Washington’s Centre for Strategic and International Studies found the volume of global shipping transiting through the South China Sea was less than previously thought, and put the real figure at $US3.3 trillion ($4.2 trillion).
China had the largest volume of exports passing through the disputed territory, or $US874 billion, and therefore the most to lose if commercial trade routes were disrupted by conflict. South Korea ($US249 billion) and Singapore ($US214 billion) were ranked second and third.
The CSIS report said 64 per cent of China’s maritime trade passed through the sea, compared to 14 per cent of US maritime trade.
China has refused to recognise a ruling by The Hague in 2016 that its historic “nine-dash line” claim to sovereignty over many of the islands is invalid, and is trying to reach its own settlement with rival claimants. It is also alleged to have threatened countries operating in the area including Vietnam.
On Friday, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said “some foreign forces move against the tide, and continue to make trouble under ‘freedom of navigation'”.
Vietnam has competing claims over the Spratly Islands and was reportedly recently threatened by China to stop oil drilling.
The official People’s Daily, in a comment piece published online on Friday, labelled Australia, the US and Japan as troublemakers. “Australia, which failed to find a balance between its economic dependence on China and security dependence on the US, is also making trouble in the South China Sea,” Jia Xiudong, a research fellow at China Institute of International Studies, wrote.