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.

USS Lassen is an Arleigh Burke class destroyer. The Arleigh Burke class are built around the Aegis Combat System.

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.

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Andy Berry

Have the US really not ratified the very thing they’re seeking to enforce? They’d have little international defence if they did spark an incident wouldn’t they?

I don’t agree with the Chinese position of the land they have created to extend their own borders, but aren’t the US on thin ice here, legally?

Not that I can imagine China would care much for international law..

Howie Elliott

China is trying to control international waters in the south China seas which is a very busy shipping route…USA are making sure it stays open….China is the aggressor….

Andy Berry

I don’t disagree with that, as I said in my original comment – my point is about the US enforcing something they haven’t ratified or not…

Jason Owens

Some points of international law apply no matter whether the nations have ratified it or now (eg: all nations are expected to abide by the Geneva conventions, and if you are against a country who hasn’t signed them you are still supposed to abide by them).

China are also bullying other countries in the region – its attitude towards Japan is appaling (“stop intercepting out planes in your airspace!”) and refuses to deal with international bodies regarding sovereignty negotiations.

Andy Berry

that is the answer i was after – thanks Jason Owens

the ratification (or not) of interntational waters is a little outside of my knowledge

Jun Nacario Baguio

china threatens the US navy?

David L Thomas

can threatened usa where it hurts and call in their debt China is holding us debt

jon livesey

All China can do is sell their US debt. And then they have to sell it *to* someone. If they sell it to the US, the debt is effectively cancelled and the US just creates currency to match it. If they sell it to a third party, then that third party holds the debt. Eirher way, the US doesn’t care.

Robert S. Kho

China, its your call!

A.J Hawtin

Bit of a grey area really.
I agree that China care little for international law and I also think that at a time when us/Chinese relationships are on tenterhooks…sabre rattling and puffing up chests is really not constructive.
On the other hand…I hate China and the way they treat their own citizens…maybe it’s time they were put in their place?


Well, the US are just going to carry on passing through that route over and over again so I guess the Chinese need to get used to that. Building an artificial island and then calling the seas around it will lead to chaos if every country does that.

Howie Elliott

bring it on cos you will lose…

Andy Christie

It Is what it is, you can’t bow to a rogue state because they are becoming powerful. I will not serve for a country of cowards, if action has to be taking because one state thinks it can bully it’s way onto the world stage then I hope the leaders of this country would have the nerve to make that decision. Never bow down to a bully ??

Ray Morrell

Minor incident…. like building a naval base out of a coral reef hundreds of mikes from your shores and claiming it as sovereign territory with a 12 mile exclusion area. Yeah stuff it, PRC.

David L Thomas

Without losing anyone in this potential conflict, why dont China call their us debts in and harm usa where it hurts

jon livesey

See my previous reply. This just doesn’t work.

Neem Cryer

Yeah its not that easy. And China depends on the US a whole lit also, you’re basically asking China to cripple its own economy also… idiot