China has strongly protested the arrival of two U.S. warships near Paracel Islands which part of the group of disputed islands in the South China Sea. The presence of the U.S. warships is seen as a “provocation” by Beijing and the country has accused the United States of undermining their sovereignty.
The Defence Ministry of China issued a statement demanding the U.S. warships to leave because they had entered their territory without permission. The waters where the disputed islands are located are estimated to bring in an estimated $5 Trillion in trade.
The U.S. warships were identified as the USS Higgins and the USS Antietam. Both came within 12 nautical miles off the Paracel Islands. China continues to engage neighbouring countries in territorial disputes over the islands which comprise a string of islets, reefs, and shoals.
Many believe that the move was U.S. President Donald Trump’s attempt to circumvent what they see as China’s efforts to control navigation in the strategic waters. The arrival of the U.S. warships is the latest in a series of contentious events between the United States and China.
The issue over the disputed islands has exacerbated due to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to set aside the ruling of the Hague granting the Philippines complete territorial rights. The Hague denied China’s historical claim of a “Nine Dash Line” to assert its sovereign rights over the islands.
Since Duterte’s assumed the presidency in the Philippines, China has ramped up the construction of military structures on the islands. Satellite images have picked up images of an air strip and lately, there has been evidence of truck- mounted surface- to- air missiles at an outpost.
China also landed bombers on the disputed islands as part of its military exercise in the region. Concern has been growing in Vietnam regarding China’s growing presence and apparent disregard for international law.
Under fire for allowing China to construct on the disputed islands, Duterte continues to deny the Hague ruling was handed down when he assumed the presidency. He and his cohorts continue to pin the blame on the previous administration of Benigno S. Aquino for China’s intrusion on the islands.
The Hague ruling was made on 12 July 2016. Duterte assumed the presidency on 30 June 2016.
The U.S. military did not release a statement regarding the arrival of the warships. However, they clarified that it is normal for them to navigate the waters on a regular basis:
“We conduct routine and regular Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOP), as we have done in the past and will continue to do so in the future.”