South China Sea Dispute Boils Over as China Says it 'Drove Away' US Warship

The South China Sea, which holds great economic and geostrategic importance, is making the headlines as China claims that it "drove away" a US warship in the waters.

Beijing said that the US warship had illegally entered Chinese waters near the Paracel Islands on July 12. The Paracel Islands, also known as the Xisha Islands and the Hoang Sa Archipelago, are a disputed archipelago in the South China Sea. This development comes on the anniversary of an international tribunal ruling that says Beijing has no claims over the South China Sea.

'US Should Stop Such Provocative Actions'

The PLA's Southern Theatre Command stated that the USS Benfold entered the waters of the Paracels without the approval of the Chinese government. It accused the US of violating China's sovereignty and undermining the stability of the South China Sea. "We urge the United States to immediately stop such provocative actions," the Southern Theatre Command said in a statement.

US Responds By Referring to The 'Right Of Innocent Passage'

The Benfold asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the vicinity of the Paracel Islands consistent with international law, the US Navy said in a statement on Monday. "Under international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention, the ships of all states, including their warships, enjoy the right of innocent passage through the territorial sea," it added.

China's Maritime Militia

Earlier in April, the US and Philippines had highlighted their concerns over the presence of more than 200 Chinese vessels allegedly manned by China's maritime militia. The Philippines had spotted these Chinese vessels at Whitsun Reef that it calls its own. Manila claimed that the boats do not appear to be fishing and termed it as an incursion by China. China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs had said that the Whitsun Reef is part of the Spratly islands and China's fishing vessels have been fishing in the water of this reef for a very long time.

US Military vessels in South China Sea
US Military vessels in South China Sea YouTube Grab

Many reports suggest that China has turned several reefs in the Spratly islands chain into man-made islands where missiles have been deployed. The Spratly islands are a group of more than 100 small islands or reefs. They are surrounded by rich fishing grounds. China claims the entire Spratly islands.

China Ignores The Hague Tribunal's South China Sea Ruling

On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague rejected China's nine-dash line and ruled that Beijing had no historic title over the South China Sea. However, Beijing continues to ignore the ruling and argued that its claim over the South China Sea is historical in nature.

Aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt
Aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt in South China Sea YouTube Grab

China stakes claim to 90 percent of the South China Sea. From strengthening its military capabilities to firing ballistic missiles in the region, Beijing is attempting to militarize this region.

The South China Sea has huge oil and natural gas reserves beneath its seabed. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims to parts of the sea.

However, China is time and again creating an unrest and militarizing the region by dominating the Southeast Asian nations. Tensions are once again rising in the South China Sea as Beijing and Washington are at loggerheads over the most hotly contested regions in the world.