China’s naval commander told his US counterpart that a minor incident could spark war in the South China Sea if the United States did not stop its “provocative acts”.
Admiral Wu Shengli made the comments to US chief of naval operations Admiral John Richardson during a video teleconference on Thursday, according to a Chinese naval statement.
The two officers held talks after a US warship sailed within 12 nautical miles of one of Beijing’s man made islands in the contested Spratly archipelago on Tuesday.
China has rebuked Washington over the patrol, the most significant U.S. challenge yet to territorial limits China effectively claims around its seven artificial islands in one of the world’s busiest sea lanes.
Admiral Wu Shengli said:
“If the United States continues with these kinds of dangerous, provocative acts, there could well be a seriously pressing situation between frontline forces from both sides on the sea and in the air, or even a minor incident that sparks war.”
This comes as a US Navy destroyer sailed close to artificial islands built by China in the disputed waters of the South China Sea in defiance of China.
Destroyer USS Lassen breached the 12-nautical mile zone China claims around its artificial islands in the Spratly archipelago.
The freedom of navigation operation represents a serious challenge to China’s territorial claims. Freedom of navigation is a principle of international law that ships flying the flag of any sovereign state shall not suffer interference from other states. This right is also codified in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. However, not all UN member states have ratified the convention; notably, the United States has signed, but not ratified the convention.
China has responded to the US for ignoring repeated warnings and allowing one of its destroyers to sail close to the artificial islands.
A statement posted on China’s Foreign Ministry website says:
“These actions of the US warship are a threat to the sovereignty and security of China, and safety of people living on the islands; they damage peace and stability in the region. In this regard, the Chinese side expresses extreme dissatisfaction and strongly protests.”
Under international law, a state’s territorial waters extend 12 nautical miles from its shore. However, the US and others argue that this rule cannot apply to artificial islands.
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, also claim parts of the sea. Taiwan is a sixth claimant.