The Southern Theater Command of the Chinese military claimed that it had “followed, monitored, warned, and driven away” the US Navy destroyer USS Benfold from the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea using its air and naval resources.
According to the People’s Liberation Army’s Southern Theatre Command, the USS Benfold allegedly violated Chinese law by entering the Paracel Islands.
The US Navy’s Seventh Fleet issued a statement and refuted Beijing’s claims, asserting that it was only exercising its legal authority to conduct a Freedom of Navigation Operation (FONOP) in the South China Sea.
“The PRC’s statement about this mission is false. USS Benfold conducted this FONOP in accordance with international law and then continued on to conduct normal operations in international waters,” read part of the Seventh Fleet’s statement.
According to the Seventh Fleet’s statement, The US Navy regularly conducts FONOPs in the South China Sea, arguing that China and other claimants, including Taiwan and Vietnam, should not be allowed to obstruct the routine passage of vessels in the region.
After driving out the then-South Vietnamese government, China seized control of the Paracel island group in 1974.
China’s claims to the South China Sea were rejected by an international tribunal in The Hague in 2016, however, Beijing has refused to recognize the decision, and has since then built government structures on several islands.
General Li Zuocheng, a member of China’s Central Military Commission (CMC) previously held a meeting with the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley.
Li said that China and the US can achieve “common development and mutual benefits” as long as both countries follow their respective “strategic guidance” from their leaders.
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