China has protested a recent U.S. Navy patrol. During the route, a U.S. guided missile destroyer passed through the South China sea, close to a number of man-made islands. The patrols, which took place on Thursday, are the first time that the United States has challenged China’s claim to the waters since President Trump was inaugurated earlier this year.
The Defense Ministry of China told the press that it had asked for an explanation for the patrols from the United States. The Ministry claims that the patrol took place near the Mischief Reef – an artificial islands that has been constructed and fortified by China in an attempt to control the waterway.
U.S. officials have not responded to the request for an explanation, though in the past, Washington has insisted that they have the right to perform naval operations in the waters. Under the Obama administration, American officials claimed that they could perform “freedom of navigation operations” (or FONOPS) in the area, because they were technically treading international waters. These operations have not taken place since Trump became president, however.
The move is particularly interesting, as Trump has been attempting to improve ties with Russia in an attempt to take action against North Korea.
A spokesperson from the Foreign Ministry of China has said that the American destroyer has “trespassed” in the waters. China claims that they have “indisputable sovereignty” over the water and artificial lands. Lu Kang, the spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, urged the United States to “correct this mistake” and to stop any further actions. Kang warned that continued operations in the waters could result in damaging the security and peace in the region, as well as the cooperation between America and China.
Colonel Ren Guoquiang of the Defense Ministry also spoke to the press during a monthly news briefing, claiming that two Chinese navy frigates had already warned away American ships that were trespassing without permission from China. The colonel echoed Kang’s comments, urging America to make efforts to rights its wrong, and foster a more positive relationship with the Chinese military. The spokesperson also claimed that the actions taken by America could potentially cause an accident at sea, and that it might even motivate the Chinese armed forces to improve its capacity to defend itself.
China claims ownership of almost all the South China Sea, and in an attempt to defend the waters, has been turning submerged reefs into new islands. Some of these man-made islands are now equipped with radar, weapon systems, and runways.
The United States, along with other countries, oppose the moves by China. Not only are the waters used for the passage of ships, but there is a wealth of mineral deposits, natural gas, oil, and even fishing grounds within the waters. China claims that the artificial islands are designed for civilian use and to improve the safety of ships passing through the waters. China’s officials have also said that the country would not interfere with overflight or foreign navigation through the waters.