China was angered on Tuesday (9 October) after a US Navy vessel had passed past the islands claimed by China in the disputed South China Sea, saying that it was resolutely against the operation. Beijing called the US move a threat to its sovereignty. Both sides are moreover locked in a tit-for-tat trade war in which they have imposed tariffs on each other’s imports. The destroyer the USS Decatur was reported to have been travelling within 12 nautical miles of Johnson Reefs and Gaven in the Spratly Islands.
The operation is seen as an attempt to prevent China from blocking the strategic waters where Southeast Asian, Japanese and Chinese navies operate. China’s Defence Ministry said that it had sent an own ship to warn the US destroyer to leave. The ministry also reiterated that China had the ultimate sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and its territorial waters. “The US side repeatedly sends military ships without permission into seas close to South China Seas islands, seriously threatening China’s sovereignty and security, seriously damaging Sino-US military ties and seriously harming regional peace and stability,” the ministry commented. “China’s military is resolutely opposed to this,” it said.
American officials have also encouraged more countries to join the efforts. Thus, in late August, the US-intiated “freedom of navigation exercises” were also supported by the United Kingdom when a British warship sailed through these contested waters, which attracted an angry response from a state-run Chinese newspaper that called on the UK to “refrain from being Washington’s sharksucker”. The HMS Albion, a 22,000 ton amphibious warship carrying a contingent of Royal Marines, passed by the Paracel Islands on its way from Japan to Vietnam. China dispatched a frigate and two helicopters to challenge the vessel. Beijing claims nearly all of the disputed South China Sea, waters also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
In September, US Ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland, said that Europe and the US should work together to sort out the current issues so that they can stand tall in front of China and address its global activities. Mr. Sondland also stressed that concluding the free trade deal between the US and EU would be especially powerful. “The jackpot [in concluding the trade deal] is having what is about $40 trillion combined GDP working as a bloc in terms of dealing with Chinese growth, Chinese theft of intellectual property, Chinese malign activity, Chinese militarization in South China Sea, and all the other things we’ve been calling out to China to stop doing,” he said.