China warns off U.S. destroyer near South China Sea's strategic Scarborough Shoal


A US Navy destroyer this week sailed near the Scarborough Shoal, a disputed lagoon claimed by China in the South China Sea, US officials said on Saturday, and Beijing vowed to take "necessary measures" to protect what it said was its sovereignty.

The Chinese government on Saturday accused the USA of trespassing in its territorial waters when a US guided missile destroyer sailed near Scarborough Shoal to promote freedom of navigation in the disputed waters.

A spokesperson said on Saturday that the "situation is stabilized" in the waters and that "the United States has repeatedly sent warships illegally into the adjacent waters of the South China Sea islands and reefs".

China's defence ministry said in a separate statement that a Chinese frigate "immediately took actions to identify and verify the USA ship and drove it away by warning" it.

The Philippines said Sunday that it won't get embroiled in a fresh spat between the USA and China involving Beijing's protest of an American warship passing near a Chinese-controlled shoal also claimed by the Philippines.

The United States has criticised China for constructing islands and military installations in the region, saying they could be used to restrict free nautical movement.

The U.S. Navy regularly sails through the area to assert freedom of navigation.

In a separate statement on Saturday, China's defence ministry said the repeated dispatch of USA warships to the region was "undermining regional peace and stability" and hurting bilateral relations.

Nevertheless, China has built artificial islands and facilities on other disputed parts of the waters, according to satellite images.

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The US military says it carries out "freedom of navigation" operations throughout the world, including in areas claimed by allies, and that they are separate from political considerations.

"All operations are conducted in accordance with worldwide law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail, and operate wherever global law allows", stated Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Logan, cited by Reuters.

U.S. Navy's amphibious assault vehicles with Philippine and U.S. troops on board maneuver in the waters during a combined assault exercise facing the contested Scarborough Shoal in waters off of the Philippines in 2015.

China on Saturday, January 20, protested the presence of a USA warship close to Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, a rocky sandbar off the coast of Zambales province in the Philippines that China practically occupied since a standoff in 2012.

China claims virtually the entire South China Sea and has carried out extensive land reclamation work on numerous islands and reefs it claims, equipping some with air strips and military installations.

Nicole Schwegman, a U.S. Pacific Fleet spokeswoman, said in an email.

Duterte has refused to demand immediate Chinese compliance with the 2016 arbitration ruling, which invalidated China's vast territorial claims to the South China Sea on historical grounds.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has revived once-frosty relations with China since taking power in 2016 and often criticizes USA security policies.