South China Sea: China accuses US warship of 'violating its sovereignty'

South China Sea: China accuses US warship of 'violating its sovereignty'

South China Sea: China accuses US warship of 'violating its sovereignty'

Updated 20 January 2018, 21:00 AEDT

China's foreign ministry accuses a US warship of entering its territorial waters without permission and says it will take "necessary measures" to ensure its sovereignty is protected.

China's foreign ministry has accused a US warship of entering its territorial waters without permission and said it would take "necessary measures" to ensure its sovereignty was protected.

Key points:

  • China says the USS Hopper travelled too close to the disputed Scarborough Shoal
  • The island, also claimed by the Philippines, is part of the disputed South China Sea
  • An international court found China has no historic title over the area

On the evening of January 17, missile destroyer USS Hopper came within 12 nautical miles of the Scarborough Shoal, a disputed territory in the South China Sea, the ministry said on its website.

The ministry identified the island by its Chinese name, Huangyan Island. The territory is claimed by the Philippines as well as China.

An international court in the Hague previously found that China had no historic title over the area, and that it had breached the Philippines' sovereign rights with its actions there.

China's navy ordered the US vessel to withdraw after determining its identity, China's foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang was quoted as saying.

Mr Lu said the ship violated China's sovereignty and security interests and threatened the safety of China's vessels and personnel in the vicinity.

The United States has criticised China for constructing islands and military installations in the region, saying they could be used to restrict free nautical movement.

US vessels have conducted a series of "freedom of navigation" patrols in the region.

China "firmly opposes" efforts to use freedom of navigation as an excuse to hurt its sovereignty and urged the United States to "correct its mistakes", Mr Lu said.

In a separate statement on Saturday, China's defence ministry said the repeated dispatch of US warships to the region was "undermining regional peace and stability" and hurting bilateral relations.

China has previously criticised Australia using similar language.

Last month, China's navy chief reportedly told his Australian counterpart that navy activity in the region had gone against "peace and stability" in the region.

Australian navy personnel had taken part in a three-month series of drills with 10 other nations, some of which took place in the South China Sea, according to Chinese media.

Australia has also conducted aerial patrols in the South China Sea, but has not taken part in the United States' freedom of navigation patrols.

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Vietnam, China, Malaysia have eyes on the prize


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Rich in resources and traversed by a quarter of global shipping, the South China Sea is the stage for several territorial disputes that threaten to escalate tensions in the region.
At the heart of these disputes are a series of barren islands in two groups - the Spratly Islands, off the coast of the Philippines, and the Paracel Islands, off the coasts of Vietnam and China.

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Both chains are essentially uninhabitable, but are claimed by no fewer than seven countries, eager to gain control of the vast oil and gas fields below them, as well as some of the region's best fishing grounds.
Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei have made claims to part of the Spratlys based on the internationally recognised Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which extends 200 nautical miles from a country's coastline.

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Based on the EEZ, the Philippines has the strongest claim on the Spratlys and their resources, with its EEZ covering much of the area.
However the lure of resources, and prospect of exerting greater control over shipping in the region, means that greater powers are contesting the Philippines' claims.

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China has made extensive sovereignty claims on both the Spratlys and the Paracels to the north, based largely on historic claims outlined in a map from the middle part of the 20th Century known as the 'Nine Dash Map'.
Taiwan also makes claims based on the same map, as it was created by the nationalist Kuomintang government, which fled to Taiwan after the communists seized power in China.

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Vietnam also claims the Spratlys and the Paracels as sovereign territory, extending Vietnam's EEZ across much of the region and bringing it into direct conflict with China.
There have been deadly protests in Vietnam over China's decision to build an oil rig off the Paracels.
One Chinese worker in Vietnam was killed and a dozen injured in riots targeting Chinese and Taiwanese owned factories, prompting 3,000 Chinese nationals to flee the country.

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EEZ can only be imposed based on boundaries of inhabitable land, and this has prompted all the countries making claims on the region to station personnel, and in some cases build military bases out of the water, to bolster their claim.
Building and protecting these structures has resulted in a series of stand-offs between countries in the region, each with the potential to escalate.
China has been leading the charge with these installations, and has deployed vessels to the region to protect their interests.
Chinese coast guard vessels have used a water cannon on Vietnamese vessels, as well as blockading an island where the Philippines has deployed military personnel.

ABC/Reuters