China has accused a U.S. naval ship of having “illegally intruded” into waters near the Second Thomas Shoal, an area of hot territorial dispute between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea.
The Chinese military ordered its naval force to mobilize and track the USS Gabrielle Giffords on Monday after China claimed the warship violated its sovereign waters, according to a statement from the People’s Liberation Army Southern Theater.
“The U.S. deliberately disrupted the situation in the South China Sea, seriously violated China’s sovereignty and security, seriously undermined regional peace and stability, and seriously violated international law and basic norms governing international relations, fully demonstrating that the U.S. is the biggest threat to peace and stability in the South China Sea,” the Chinese military’s Southern Theater said.
The U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet denied the accusation, saying the ship “was conducting routine operations in international waters … consistent with international law.” The USS Giffords is a littoral combat ship designed to operate in coastal areas.
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Chinese and Philippine naval and coast guard ships have confronted each other repeatedly around the shoal in the South China Sea in recent months. Dwarfed by China’s military might, the Philippines has sought American help in these territorial disputes.
China also accused the U.S. of meddling in waters far from its shores and renewed its charge that America is escalating regional tensions, prompting a response from the U.S. Navy.
The U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet, based in Japan, said its operations in the South China Sea demonstrate a commitment “to upholding a free and open Indo-Pacific region where all nations, large and small, are secure in their sovereignty, can resolve disputes without coercion, and have the freedom to navigate and fly consistent with international laws, rules and norms.”
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China claims sovereignty over virtually all the reefs and other outcroppings in the South China Sea. Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also claim they are the rightful owners of the territories, further spurring confusion in the region.
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The U.S. has a long history of patrolling the South China Sea, an important shipping lane and fishing grounds, to ensure regional peace. China’s emergence as a military power over the last 50 years and its growing ambitions to be a regional and global power are challenging long-standing American dominance.
The USS Gabrielle Giffords was commissioned on June 10, 2017 in Galveston, Texas. The warship was named after former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz. It was the third Navy ship ever to be named after a living woman.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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