China on Monday accused the littoral combat ship USS Gabrielle Giffords of having violated its sovereignty when it transited near the Second Thomas Shoal in disputed waters of the South China Sea. Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Brenton Poyser/U.S.Navy
Dec. 4 (UPI) -- China on Monday accused the U.S. Navy of violating its sovereignty when the USS Gabrielle Giffords warship sailed near a submerged reef in disputed waters of the South China Sea.
China's Southern Theater Command issued its protest in a statement, saying the littoral combat ship "illegally broke into the waters adjacent to Ren'ai Reef ... without the approval of the Chinese government."
Located in the Spratly Islands of the South China Sea, the Second Thomas Shoal, which is called the Ren'ai Reef in China, is claimed by Beijing, as well as the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
Manila operates an outpost as part of a resupply mission on the reef and its ships have repeatedly come into confrontation with Chinese vessels in the region. In October, the Armed Forces of the Philippines accused Chinese Coast Guard vessels of colliding with one of its supply boats.
On Monday, China said the United States "deliberately disrupted" the South China Sea, "seriously violated" its sovereignty and security and undermined regional peace and stability when the USS Gabrielle Giffords transited near the shoal.
It described the U.S. action as having "seriously violated international law and basic norms governing international relations."
"This fully demonstrates that the United States is the biggest threat to peace and stability in the South China Sea," it said, while claiming "indisputable sovereignty" over the body of water.
The U.S. Navy rejected the accusation, telling the San Diego Union-Tribune that the USS Gabrielle Giffords was conducting "routine operations" in international waters of the South China Sea.
"These operations demonstrate we are committed to upholding a free and open Indo-Pacific region where all nations, large and small, are secure in their sovereignty, can resolve disputes without coercion and have the freedom to navigate and fly consistent with international laws, rules and norms," Cmdr. Megan Greene, a public affairs officer with U.S. 7th Fleet, said.
The accusation comes weeks after U.S President Joe Biden and President Xi Jinping of China met in mid-November in San Francisco for a summit aimed at lowering tensions between the world's two largest economies.
Biden had described the talks as "constructive and productive." Concrete achievements included the restoration of military-to-military direct contact.
China claims much of the South China Sea via its controversial Nine-Dash-Line maps, which have been rejected by several nations, including the United States. The Hague's Permanent Court of Arbitration also disregarded the maps in a 2016 decision in a case that was brought against China by the Philippines.