China warns U.S. vessels to leave disputed waters

China warns U.S. vessels to leave disputed waters

China warns U.S. vessels to leave disputed waters

One official said the U.S. military vessels conducted manoeuvers near the Lincoln, Triton, Tree and Woody islands in the Paracels.

The chief spokesman for China's Ministry of National Defense, Senior Col Wu Qian, said that the United States "gravely violated Chinese sovereignty".

The operation was the latest attempt to counter what Washington sees as Beijing's efforts to limit freedom of navigation in the strategic waters.

The US military did not directly comment on Sunday's operation, but said US forces operate in the region daily.

"We conduct routine and regular Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs), as we have done in the past and will continue to do in the future", said the United States Pacific Fleet, according to the news service.

The Paracel islands are part of a territorial dispute that China has with neighbouring countries.

In recent months, China has appeared more determined to defend its claims in the South China Sea, reinforcing and arming its bases in the Paracel Islands and farther south in the Spratly Islands, even though the various islands, reefs, shoals and other outcroppings are also claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan and others.

The operations "are not about any one country", he said in a statement, "nor are they about making political statements". This spring, China landed strategic bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons on the island, a symbolic display of its deterrent power, and satellite imagery showed the arrival of surface-to-air missiles this month.

The U.S. ships were performing so-called "freedom of navigation operations" meant to exercise the U.S. right to navigate the waters under global law, as China's claims over the South China Sea aren't internationally recognized.

'China's continued militarization of disputed features in the South China Sea only serves to raise tensions and destabilize the region, ' Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Chris Logan said.

"All operations are conducted in accordance with worldwide law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever global law allows".

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