U.S. warship’s South China Sea passage sparks row

PLA: Organised forces to drive it away

A U.S. warship sailed through the South China Sea on Thursday, sparking a warning from China’s military as tensions between the superpowers remain high.

The American Navy said the USS Benfold “asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the vicinity of the Paracel Islands, consistent with international law”.

The Southern Theatre Command of the People’s Liberation Army said the U.S. ship had “illegally” entered what Beijing regards as its waters.

The PLA “organised naval and air forces to engage in tracking and monitoring as well as to warn and drive (the destroyer) away,” its statement added.

China claims almost all of the South China Sea, through which trillions of dollars in trade passes annually, with competing claims from Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Beijing has ignored a 2016 ruling by The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration that its historical claim is without basis.

Led by the United States, multiple Western navies conduct “freedom of navigation operations”, known in military circles as FONOPs, to assert the idea that the South China Sea is an international waterway.

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