China rebuked the United States for deploying a guided missile destroyer close to its artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea, summoning the US ambassador to protest against the move which it says provocative.
The US launched a naval mission on Tuesday, deploying the guided-missile destroyer USS Lassen near to the two artificial islands built by China in the the Spratly archipelago in the South China Sea.
A Chinese guided-missile destroyer and a naval patrol ship shadowed and warned the US warship "according to law," Chinese Defence Ministry stated.
The US defence confirmed that the USS Lassen was followed at a safe distance by a Chinese ship adding that no incidents were reported during the 115 km passage.
At the meantime, an official from People’s Liberation Army Daily announced that a French frigate has docked at Zhanjiang in the southern China on Tuesday for a four-day long “friendly visit.”
The frigate is expected to join a maritime exercise and to increase mutual understanding, trust and cooperation between China and France.
US naval missions to continue
US defence secretary Ash Carter signalled that naval missions in the area will resume saying “We will fly, sail and operate wherever international law permits.”
“There have been naval operations in that region in recent days and there will be more in the weeks and months to come,” Carter said.
The move on Tuesday prompted reaction in China as Chinese vice-foreign minister Zhang Yesui called it as “extremely irresponsible” during a press conference after his meeting with Max Baucus, the US ambassador to China.
Cui Tiankai, the Chinese ambassador to the US also described the operation as “a very serious provocation, politically and militarily”
Another statement came from the Chinese defence ministry saying the patrol is a “coercive action that seeks to militarize the South China Sea region” and an abuse of freedom of navigation under international law.
Also Bill Urban, a US Defense Department spokesperson said, “The United States is conducting routine operations in the South China Sea in accordance with international law,”
“US forces operate in the Asia-Pacific region on a daily basis, including in the South China Sea. All operations are conducted in accordance with international law.”
However, state department spokesperson John Kirby stated on Tuesday that the US has the right to freedom of navigation in international waters and such actions “should not be considered as a threat by anybody,” adding that the relations between the two countries should continue to deepen.
Kirby said, "The U.S.-China relationship is vitally important and one that we want to see continue to improve and to grow for the benefit of both our countries, not to mention the region."
The move came after the US President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping have failed to agree over the issue during their last meeting held at the White House in September.
China started its reclamation campaign in the South China Sea adding almost 3,000 acres of artificial land and mere rocks barely above the water to its sovereignty saying the islands are being built for civilian purposes.
After some satellite photographs showing the construction of three military length airstrips that might be used for military purposes emerged, the US, Japan and Philippines have voiced they are concerned by China’s expansion.