BEIJING/WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on Thursday expelled a US warship that trespassed into China’s territorial waters in the Xisha Islands in the South China Sea on Thursday, near an ongoing Chinese military exercise zone that featured live-fire anti-ship ballistic missile launches.
The USS Mustin, a US Navy guided-missile destroyer, trespassed into China’s territorial waters in the Xisha Islands on Thursday, and the PLA Southern Theater Command dispatched naval and air forces to track, identify and warn it to leave, said Senior Colonel Li Huamin, a spokesperson for the PLA Southern Theater Command on early Friday, The Global Times reported.
The US ignored the rules of the international law, repeatedly stirred up troubles in the South China Sea, exercised navigational hegemony in the name of the so-called “freedom of navigation”, seriously undermined China’s sovereignty and security interests, and severely sabotaged the international navigation order in the South China Sea, Li said.
China has indisputable sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and their adjacent waters in the region, and the command troops are always on high alert to resolutely protect national sovereignty and safeguard peace and stability in the region of the South China Sea, Li said.
Beijing-based military expert Wei Dongxu told the Global Times on Friday that the PLA has a strong ability in safeguarding its sovereignty in the South China Sea, including its comprehensive maritime and aerial monitoring capabilities with equipment such as patrol aircraft.
Once a US warship is spotted conducting provocative actions including sailing near Chinese islands and reefs, the PLA can send warnings and use destroyers or frigates to drive it away, Wei said. Facing the repeated US military provocations, the PLA can thwart all of them, Wei added.
“We urge the US to stop this kind of provocative action, to strictly manage maritime and aerial military operations and strictly restrain its frontline troops, so as to avoid accidents,” Li also said.
According to a navigation restriction notice released by the Hainan Maritime Safety Administration on August 21, the PLA is holding exercises in the South China Sea, in an area between South China’s Hainan Island and the Xisha Islands.
Overseas reports said on Wednesday that the PLA launched multiple anti-ship ballistic missiles into the zone during the exercise on that day. The PLA had not confirmed the launches as of press time. Chinese military observers said it is very dangerous for a US warship to sail near a PLA exercise zone that possibly features anti-ship missile launches, and such a provocative act could risk accidents.
The guidance system on anti-ship missiles could mistakenly recognize the unexpected intruding ships as its training target, as such targets are likely designed to simulate potentially hostile ships, and the ship could be unintentionally sunk, analysts warned.
This is the second time this week that the US has conducted risky operations in or near a PLA exercise zone. On Tuesday, a U-2 high altitude reconnaissance plane trespassed in a no-fly zone that was hosting a live-fire drill by the PLA Northern Theater Command, said Defense Ministry Spokesperson Wu Qian in a statement on that day.
The U-2 plane could easily have caused misunderstanding and misjudgment, and even triggered an air and maritime accident, Wu said. Chinese military experts said that, as in the warship case, the spy plane could have been mistaken as a training target and shot down.