The USS Barry, a guided missile destroyer, “trespassed” into Beijing’s territorial waters near the disputed Xisha Islands – also known as the Paracel Islands – on Tuesday, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy said in a statement.
The incident marks the first time the navy “actively announced” an illegal trespass in the area, according to the Global Times.
The US’ provocative actions seriously violated international law and related norms, seriously violated Chinese sovereignty and security interests, and intentionally increased regional security risks,” said Senior Colonel Li Huamin, a spokesperson of the PLA Southern Theater Command, adding that the incident could have led to an “accident.”
“We urge the US side to focus on epidemic prevention and control on its homeland, … and immediately stop military actions against regional security, peace and stability.”
Earlier this week, the Barry traversed the nearby Taiwan Strait in its second “routine transit” this month, the US Navy said, closely followed by a Chinese aircraft carrier on both occasions. American warships regularly “patrol” the Strait, as well as the South and East China seas, citing the need to protect “freedom of navigation,” but Beijing has repeatedly slammed the operations as infringing on its sovereignty.
Tensions between Washington and Beijing have seen a steep rise in recent weeks, with both sides trading accusations regarding the coronavirus pandemic and its origins. US officials, including President Donald Trump, claim that China concealed vital information in the early stages of the health crisis, even freezing funding for the World Health Organization over its supposed role in the cover-up. Beijing has hit back by insinuating the US military may have had a hand in the original Covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan, while a number of Chinese officials have rejected the US allegations, insisting it shared information on the virus as soon as it was available.
Made up by some 40 islets and reefs, the Paracel Islands are claimed by China, Vietnam and Taiwan – which itself is also regarded by Beijing as its own territory – but since a short military confrontation over the archipelago with Vietnam in 1974, China has maintained control of the islands, which are now administered by the provincial government of Hainan.
Washington, however, does not recognize Beijing’s territorial claim, considering the area around the island chain to be international waters.
Header: The Arleigh-Burke class guided-missile destroyer USS Barry (DDG 52) © US Navy / handout via Reuters