June 4, 2023

Thursday the guided missile destroyer USS Milius sailed near some islands in the South China Sea that China claims as its own. Actually three different countries claim the Paracel Islands but China currently occupies them. Here’s a map showing the locations of some of the disputed islands in the South China Sea.

So when the USS Milius sailed around the Paracel Islands Thursday, China reacted by claiming they had forced the destroyer out of their territory.

China’s military said that the USS Milius, a guided missile destroyer, had “illegally intruded into China‘s Xisha territorial waters without the approval of the Chinese government.”

Chinese forces monitored, warned the vessel and drove it away, Tian Junli, a spokesman for China’s Southern Theater Command, said in a statement early Thursday.

He added that the United States was “threatening the peace and stability of the South China Sea region” and that Beijing’s forces would “always maintain a high state of readiness and take all necessary measures to resolutely defend national sovereignty and security and peace and stability” in the area.

The US denied those claims saying the ship had not been expelled as China claimed. And seeking to make it clear that’s not what happened, on Friday the USS Milius returned to the same area.

On March 24 (local time) Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Milius (DDG 69) asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the South China Sea near the Paracel Islands, consistent with international law. At the conclusion of the operation, Milius exited the excessive claim and continued operations in the South China Sea. This freedom of navigation operation (“FONOP”) upheld the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law by challenging the restrictions on innocent passage imposed by the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Taiwan, and Vietnam and also by challenging PRC’s claim to straight baselines enclosing the Paracel Islands.

Naturally, China is upping its rhetoric after the second such transit in two days. Now their Ministry of Defense is threatening “serious consequences.”

China’s Ministry of National Defense responded by accusing the U.S. of “undermining the peace and stability of the South China Sea” with its actions.

“The act of the U.S. military seriously violated China’s sovereignty and security, severely breached international laws, and is more ironclad evidence of the U.S. pursuing navigation hegemony and militarizing the South China Sea,” ministry spokesperson Tan Kefei said. “We solemnly request that the US. immediately stop such actions of provocation, otherwise it will bear the serious consequences of unexpected incidents caused by this.”

He said China would take “all necessary measures” to ensure its security but did not elaborate.

It’s laughable that China is accusing someone else of militarizing islands in the South China Sea. China has fully militarized several of the Spratly Islands and has been doing so for years. Those islands are even farther from China than the Paracel Islands.

This BBC clip is 4 1/2 years old. Even then the US was ignoring China’s warnings about approaching “their” islands in the South China Sea. But as you can see in this clip, China’s tone with other nations is somewhat different from its tone toward the US military.

Finally, the best clip to explain what China is doing is still this one from Vox. This is six years old now but still relevant.