|The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold, forward-deployed to the US 7th Fleet in the Indo-Pacific region, transits the Philippine Sea, Jun 14, 2018. (Photo by= Sarah Myers/US Navy/Handout via Reuters)|
[Asia News = Reporter Reakkana] BEIJING: Chinese forces followed and warned away from a US warship that entered waters near the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, the country's military said on Thursday (Jan 20), in the latest uptick in tensions in the disputed waterway. The Southern Theatre Command of the People's Liberation Army said the USS Benfold "illegally" sailed into Chinese territorial waters without permission, violating the country's sovereignty, and that Chinese naval and air forces tracked the ship, Reuters reported.
"We solemnly demand that the US side immediately stop such provocative actions, otherwise it will bear the serious consequences of unforeseen events," it added. The US Navy said the Benfold "asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the vicinity of the Paracel Island, consistent with international law". "At the conclusion of the operation, USS Benfold exited the excessive claim and continued operations in the South China Sea," 7th Fleet spokesman Mark Langford said.
The United States frequently carries out what it calls freedom of navigation missions in the South China Sea to challenge Chinese territorial claims. China has established military outposts on artificial islands in the waters, which are crossed by vital shipping lanes and also contain gas fields and rich fishing grounds.