In response to the US efforts to “gather intelligence”, Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) held a series of naval drills at the South China port in Hainan Province to enhance its coastal capabilities.
On April 28, Beijing claims to have expelled US guided-missile destroyer, USS Barry, after it trespassed into China’s territorial waters off the Xisha Islands. “We followed and monitored its course, identified the ship, warned and expelled it,” said Senior Colonel Li Huamin, a spokesperson of the PLA Southern Theater Command.
John Supple, a Pentagon spokesman, has denied these series of events and said that at no point were U.S. warships ‘expelled’ from the South China Sea.
The Chinese forces had impacted the U.S. ships’ movements during “two successful freedom of navigation operations” — including one involving the guided-missile destroyer, USS Barry. Both had “started and ended at a time and place of our choosing,” said Supple.
The South China sea serves as a gateway to global sea routes and has been a bone of contention between China and Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei.
The US, which sides with Beijing’s rivals in the maritime dispute, routinely sends warships and warplanes to the South China Sea to assert what it calls “right to freedom of navigation”, stimulating tensions among the regional countries.
These exercises came at a time when the US has been sending warships and aircraft into the South China Sea with increasing frequency, even as the US Navy has been struggling to deal with COVID-19 outbreak.
China claims that its counter efforts are in response to all the “military provocations” including the USS Nimitz, one of the world’s largest warships, which was removed recently due to the ongoing pandemic but is scheduled to be deployed to the Pacific in summer.
China has also reported having conducted exercises with the warships of the PLA Navy 35th Escort Task group. The destroyer Taiyuan, frigate Jingzhou and replenishment ship Chaohu conducted anti-piracy and live-fire shooting training in the South China Sea. An anti-submarine aircraft under the PLA Southern Theater Command Navy has also conducted patrol and anti-submarine missions.
China has also criticised the US Navy’s proposal to send privately owned armed vessels commissioned by the state, reviving the 18th-century practice of awarding privateers letters of marque to prey on foreign vessels.
The PLA Senior Colonel Wu Qian slammed this move and said that these actions are criminal activities explicitly prohibited under international laws, which will receive joint opposition and a severe backlash from the international community.