US Navy ‘Denies’ Chinese Claim That It ‘Warned’ American Warship Off South China Sea

On Thursday, China and the US gave conflicting reports about a possible naval dispute involving a USN warship.

The Chinese Southern Theatre Command of the People’s Liberation Army claimed that it tracked the USS Benfold with its sea and air assets as it “illegally” entered the communist nation’s territorial waters without clearance. China also claimed that it warned the American ship away after tracking it.

The Benfold is a destroyer equipped with anti-aircraft, anti-submarine, and anti-surface weapons systems. It is capable of launching Harpoon and Tomahawk missiles. It can effectively engage ballistic and cruise missiles simultaneously.

The Chinese military statement went on to say that it “solemnly demands” that the US stop its “provocative actions.” It warned of “serious consequences of unforeseen events” unless its demand is obeyed.

Spokesman Mark Langford of the US Navy’s 7th Fleet confirmed the ship was operating in the area but denied that the Chinese military had warned away from the Benfold. Langford went on to say that Benfold’s mission reflected the USN commitment to the defense of free navigation on the open seas.

Langford unequivocally stated that the PRC’s statement regarding the Benfold “is false.” He added that the ship’s mission was part of a “freedom of navigation” operation in the South China Sea that was in full accordance with international law. The ship continued to international waters for normal operations.

Langford’s statement emphasized that the USN usually conducts similar missions in the area to demonstrate the international community’s challenge to China’s territorial claims. It added that the US is working to defend all nations’ right to “fly, sail, and operate” where allowed by international law and that “nothing the PRC says otherwise will deter us.”

China has constructed artificial islands near crucial international shipping lanes in the South China Sea. The Chinese military has increased its operations from those islands near vital fishing areas and gas fields. The US has led the way in declaring Chinese aggression in the area to be contrary to international law and free navigation.

Several other nations, including Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, and the Philippines, have overlapping territorial claims in different parts of the South China Sea.