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China Accuses U.S. of ‘Ill Intentions’ in South China Sea

File Photo: This aerial photo shows US Navy littoral combat ship USS Montgomery during the US and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) maritime exercise at the gulf of Thailand on September 5, 2019. (Photo: MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP via Getty Images)

By Philip J. Heijmans and Lucille Liu

China’s armed forces accused the U.S. of “ill intentions” in the South China Sea after an American warship entered waters near the contested Spratly Islands last week.

“The U.S. ship’s deliberate provocation during the traditional lunar Chinese New Year festival, which harbored ill intentions, is a naked act of navigational hegemony,” Senior Colonel Li Huamin, spokesman for the People’s Liberation Army’s southern command, said in a statement Tuesday. “China has indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea and its islands, and no matter how the U.S. deliberately schemes, comes up with new tricks, provokes and stirs up trouble, its efforts will be fruitless.”

The USS Montgomery, an Independence-class combat ship, was tracked by PLA forces on Jan. 25 sailing in an area adjacent to where China controls a man-made island without Beijing’s authorization.

China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines each claim sovereignty over some or all of the Spratly Islands.

‘Innocent Passage’

Lieutenant Joe Keiley, spokesman for the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet, said in an email Wednesday that no ship – civilian or military – required permission before engaging in “innocent passage” through territorial seas and that the maneuver was consistent with international law. He said the USS Montgomery was sent to challenge such restrictions imposed by China, Vietnam, and Taiwan.

“This freedom of navigation operation upheld the rights, freedoms and lawful uses of the sea,” Keiley said.

The U.S. has increased patrols in the South China Sea since the Pentagon officially labeled China a “strategic competitor” in 2018, as the world’s two biggest economies battle for influence in Asia-Pacific.

© 2020 Bloomberg L.P.