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Navy disputes that USS Wilbur was 'expelled' from Taiwan Strait

Navy disputes that USS Wilbur was 'expelled' from Taiwan Strait
Intelligence Specialist Chief Michael Tolbert stands watch on the bridge of the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur during routine operations. Photo by Zenaida Roth/U.S. Navy

May 20 (UPI) -- The Navy issued a statement Thursday disputing a claim that Chinese forces expelled the USS Curtis Wilbur from the Taiwan Strait this week.

On Tuesday, the guided-missile destroyer sailed the Taiwan Strait in what the Navy described as a "routine transit in accordance with international law."

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The People's Liberation Army Southern Theater Command later issued a statement that the PLA had "expelled" the ship the area, USNI News reported.

"The PLA's statement about this mission is false," 7th Fleet officials said in a press release on Thursday.

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"USS Curtis Wilbur was not 'expelled' from any nation's territory. USS Curtis Wilbur conducted this FONOP [freedom of navigation operation] in accordance with international law and then continued on to conduct normal operations in international waters."

A Thursday statement on from the Chinese military quoted Tian Junli, spokesperson for the PLA Southern Theater Command, saying the Wilbur trespassed into the waters of the Xisha Islands -- also known as the Paracel Islands -- and that Chinese forces warned the vessel off.

"The Xisha Islands are China's inherent territory. The behavior of the U.S. military is its old trick of 'hybrid manipulation' -- to practice navigation hegemony and at the meantime, mislead public opinion," said Tian.

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The United States has continuously disputed China's claim on the islands, and reiterated that in Thursday's statement.

"China, Taiwan, and Vietnam each claim sovereignty over the Paracel Islands. All three claimants require either permission or advance notification before a military vessel or warship engages in 'innocent passage' through the territorial sea," Navy officials noted.

"Under international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention, the ships of all States -- including their warships -- enjoy the right of innocent passage through the territorial sea," Navy officials said.

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