China is taking action against the unjust firing of direct military challenge with naval manoeuvres on Beijing’s territorial claims in South China Sea near two artificial islands by the USA. China has reportedly summoned the US ambassador after this reckless act of Washington. National television has reported that the Chinese vice-foreign minister, Zhang Yesui, had branded the move “extremely irresponsible” when meeting with the US ambassador to China, Max Baucus.
Chinese authorities said earlier they had monitored, followed and warned US warship USS Lassen as it “illegally” entered waters near the disputed reefs, and urged Washington to “immediately correct its mistake”.
The USS Lassen began its mission through waters near the disputed Spratly archipelago at about 6.40am local time on Tuesday.
“The operation has begun … It will be complete within a few hours,” a senior US defence official told Reuters.
The guided-missile destroyer reportedly received orders to travel within 12 nautical miles (22.2km, or 13.8 miles) of the Spratlys’ Mischief and Subi reefs, which are at the heart of a controversial Chinese island building campaign that has soured ties between Washington and Beijing. Chinese officials were not informed of Tuesday’s mission, US officials said.
Addressing journalists in Beijing on Tuesday afternoon, Lu Kang, a foreign ministry spokesman, said China was strongly dissatisfied with America’s actions, which he described as a threat to China’s sovereignty.
But he refused to be drawn on whether China would consider a military response. “I will not answer hypothetical questions,” Lu said. “We hope that the US side will not take actions that will backfire.”
Lu warned that further “provocative actions” might lead to accelerated Chinese construction in the South China Sea: “It would be a pity for us to realise that we have to strengthen and speed up relevant construction activities.”
The Chinese embassy in Washington said the concept of “freedom of navigation” should not be used as an excuse for muscle-flexing and the US should “refrain from saying or doing anything provocative and act responsibly in maintaining regional peace and stability”.
Earlier, as reports of the freedom of navigation operation emerged, China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, warned Washington to “act prudently to avoid provocation”.
China’s official news agency, Xinhua, said Wang had urged the US to “think twice, and not act rashly and make trouble out of nothing”.
Ian Storey, a South China Sea expert at Singapore’s Institute of South East Asian Studies, said Washington’s decision to deploy a warship rather than a smaller vessel underlined its determination to issue a powerful signal of intent.
“They’ve gone in heavy. There is not much else heavier than that except an aircraft carrier,” he said. “They want to send a very clear message to China that they are serious about this.”
Rory Medcalf, the head of the National Security College at the Australian National University, said the operation was “a warning for China not to overplay its hand in signalling that America is not welcome in the South China Sea”.