FILE PHOTO: The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold, forward deployed to the U.S. 7th Fleet in the Indo-Pacific region, transits the Philippine Sea June 14, 2018. Sarah Myers/ United States Navy/Handout via REUTERS
BEIJING, Jan 20 (Reuters) – Chinese forces have issued a warning to a U.S. warship that entered waters near the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, the country’s military said on Thursday, in a further spike in tensions on the disputed sea route.
The People’s Liberation Army Southern Theater Command said the USS Benfold “illegally” sailed into Chinese territorial waters without permission, violating the country’s sovereignty, and Chinese naval and air forces tracked the ship.
“We solemnly demand that the US side immediately stop such provocative actions, otherwise it will suffer the serious consequences of unexpected events,” he added.
The US Navy said it was working on a statement.
The United States frequently carries out “freedom of navigation missions,” as they are called, in the South China Sea to challenge Chinese territorial claims.
China has established military posts on man-made islands in the waters, which pass through vital sea routes and also contain gas fields and rich fishing grounds.
The South China Sea has become one of many sticking points in the tense relationship between China and the United States, with Washington rejecting Beijing’s allegedly illegitimate territorial claims.
China claims vast tracts of the South China Sea. Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines have overlapping claims.
(Reporting by the Beijing newsroom; writing by Ben Blanchard; editing by Himani Sarkar; translated by Aida Peláez in the Gdansk newsroom)