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U.S. warship 'driven away' from Paracel Islands, China's military says

The People's Liberation Army's Southern Theater Command said Monday a U.S. warship was driven out of Chinese-claimed waters near the disputed Paracel Islands. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI
The People's Liberation Army's Southern Theater Command said Monday a U.S. warship was driven out of Chinese-claimed waters near the disputed Paracel Islands. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

July 12 (UPI) -- China's military said it chased away a U.S. warship that had entered Chinese-claimed waters near the disputed Paracel Islands. The United States has denied charges of violations.

The People's Liberation Army's Southern Theater Command said Monday that the USS Benfold was seen near the Paracels, Chinese-administered islands that are also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan, the South China Morning Post reported.

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The ship entered the area without prior approval from Beijing and violated Chinese sovereignty and undermined stability, said the Southern Theater Command, according to Al Jazeera.

"We urge the United States to immediately stop such provocative actions," the military said.

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The U.S. Navy 7th Fleet said the ship did not violate maritime law, and that Benfold had "asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the vicinity of the Paracel Islands, consistent with international law."

The 7th Fleet also said ships have a right to "innocent passage" under the Convention on the Law of the Sea and do not require permission.

"The operation reflects our commitment to uphold freedom of navigation and lawful uses of the sea as a principle," the U.S. Navy said. "The United States will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, as USS Benfold did here. Nothing [the People's Republic of China] says otherwise will deter us."

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China's foreign ministry said Monday that the United States has repeatedly violated Chinese sovereignty.

"The United States willfully sends large-scale advanced vessels and aircraft to the South China Sea for military reconnaissance and drills and illegally intruded into China's territorial waters and space and water and air space adjacent to islands and reefs," said ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian at a regular press briefing.

Zhao also said the 2016 ruling by an international tribunal, that claimed most of China's claims in the South China Sea are null and void, was "illegal."

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"It is nothing more than a piece of waste paper," Zhao said.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement issued Sunday that China must "cease its provocative behavior" in the South China Sea, ahead of the five-year anniversary of the international tribunal ruling.

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