A U.S. missile cruiser on Tuesday entered the waters off the disputed Spratly Islands, which China considers as its own territory, without Beijing’s permission, Chinese army spokesman Tian Junli said.
This could be another evidence of Washington’s intention to militarise the South China Sea.
The disputed Spratly Islands are also known as the Nansha Islands.
The Chinese navy immediately escorted the U.S. cruiser out of the waters and warned it to leave the area, Tian, who serves in the Southern Theater Command of the People’s Liberation Army, said in a statement posted on the WeChat social network.
The spokesman added that the actions of the U.S. military seriously violated China’s sovereignty and security, and served as proof of the U.S. desire to dominate shipping in the region.
According to Tian, the incident also demonstrates that Washington is a real source of security threats in the South China Sea.
He recalled that Beijing had undeniable sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and adjacent waters, and therefore the Chinese forces maintain a state of high alert at all times to ensure peace and stability in the region.
Beijing has long been disputing the ownership of several hydrocarbon-rich islands in the South China Sea with several Asia-Pacific countries.
The territories include the Xisha archipelago, the Spratly Islands, and the island of Huangyan, also known as the Scarborough Shoal.
Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, and the Philippines have also been claiming ownership of the territories.
In July 2016, following a lawsuit filed by the Philippines, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled that China had no grounds for territorial claims in the South China Sea.
According to the court, the disputed territories of the Spratly archipelago are not considered islands and do not form an exclusive economic zone.
Beijing, in turn, replied that it did not consider the decision of the court valid and did not recognise it.
The situation in the sea region is often complicated by the passage of U.S. warships, which, according to Beijing, violate international law and undermine China’s sovereignty and security.
In spite of protests from Beijing, Washington has said that the U.S. forces would continue to operate wherever international law allowed, including the South China Sea.