China has summoned the US ambassador Max Baucus to express the country’s “strong discontent” over US ships patrolling the South China Sea. China says that the US operation is “a very serious provocation, politically and militarily”.
It’s a clear attempt by Washington to militarize the region, says Cui Tiankai, Chinese ambassador to the United States. Earlier on Tuesday, Chinese ships and aircraft warned and tracked a US Navy warship as it came close to the reefs claimed by China in contested waters in the South China Sea.
In an attempt to lay claim to territory in the South China Sea, China has been building artificial islands and placing artillery and landing strips on them. Neighboring countries Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei, and Vietnam have also disputed the sovereignty of lands and waters in the area. This is an important region, as 40% of the world’s trade passes through the South China Sea.
By sending a US warship within 12 nautical miles of one of China’s artificial islands, Washington has signaled that it is ready to contest this zone. US Defense Secretary Ash Carter, testifying before a Senate panel, said the missions would continue. “We will fly, sail and operate wherever international law permits and whenever our operational needs require”, he said.
However the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has issued a statement warning the US. “If any country thinks that, through some gimmicks, they will be able to interfere with or even prevent China from engaging in reasonable, legitimate and legal activities in its own territories, I want to suggest those countries give up such fantasy”, ministry spokesman Lu Kang said.
He further added, “It may force China to draw the conclusion that we need to strengthen and hasten the buildup of our relevant capabilities. I advise the US not to create such a self-fulfilling prophecy”.
Last May, a US surveillance plane carrying a CNN crew swooped over the Spratly Islands, triggering eight warnings from China. Navy ships from the country entered US territorial waters off Alaska in September in retaliation, coming within 12 miles of the coastline during President Barack Obama’s visit to the state.