BEIJING — China’s military said a U.S. Navy ship “illegally trespassed” Monday into waters near Second Thomas Reef, site of a searing territorial dispute between China and the Philippines in the China Sea southern.
A Chinese naval force was mobilized to track down the USS Gabrielle Giffords during the operation, according to a statement from the People’s Liberation Army Southern Theater. The U.S. Navy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Chinese and Philippine navy and coast guard vessels have repeatedly clashed around the Second Thomas Shoal in recent months as China tries to prevent the Philippines from resupplying and repairing a rusting warship it intentionally ran aground in 1999 to serve as a military outpost.
Overshadowed by Chinese military might, the Philippines has sought help from the United States, agreeing to an expansion of the U.S. military presence in the country earlier this year and launching joint maritime and air patrols with the United States at the end of last month.
China says the United States is interfering in waters far from its shores and renewed its accusation that America is the one stoking regional tensions following the sailing of the USS Giffords, a littoral combat ship designed to operate in coastal areas, near Second Thomas Shoal.
“The United States deliberately disrupted the situation in the South China Sea, seriously violated China’s sovereignty and security, seriously undermined regional peace and stability, and seriously violated international law and basic norms governing international relations, fully demonstrating that the United States poses the greatest threat to peace. and stability in the South China Sea,” said the statement from the Chinese Army’s Southern Theater.
China has claimed virtually every reef and other outcrop in the South China Sea, building some on islands with airstrips that could be used by the military. Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also claim they are the rightful owners of territories in the same waters, in a complex web of overlapping claims.