Chinese military officials said Tuesday they had to send ships and planes to force a U.S. warship out of a disputed area in the South China Sea. Officials said the People's Liberation Army spotted the U.S.S. Benfold entering waters claimed by the country Monday.
Army officials said the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer entered Chinese territory near the Paracel islands - or locally known as the Xisha Islands. Ownership of the islands is hotly contested, with China, Vietnam and Taiwan all laying de facto sovereignty.
Officials said several ships and warplanes were sent after the destroyer, which left the area after forces "warned them and drove them away." The U.S. Navy's seventh fleet public affairs office rejected China's claims but did not provide any further details on the encounter.
U.S. officials said the U.S.S. Benfold was conducting routine operations in the area that was "in accordance with international law." The Navy said China's latest claims are a misrepresentation of "lawful U.S. maritime operations" as it asserts its "illegitimate maritime claims."
On the same day as China's announcement, the Biden administration reaffirmed its support of the 2016 tribunal ruling rejecting China's claims for much of the South China Sea. China has increasingly been assertive in its territorial claims of regions also claimed by Southeast Asian countries such as the Philippines, India, Japan and Vietnam.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused China of using military intimidation to assert its claims. Blinken warned the Chinese government that any attack on Philippine vessels or aircraft would force the U.S. to act on its mutual defense commitments. The Philippines and the U.S. signed a treaty in 1951 that obligates both countries to come to each others aid in case of an attack.
Chinese foreign ministry representative, Zhao Lijian, said the tribunal ruling was a "political farce." He said China's territorial claims have a "historical and legal basis" and it is wrong for the U.S. to interfere.
"China firmly deplores and rejects the wrongdoings of the United States," Zhao said.