U.S. Navy Dismisses Claim China Drove Away Warship From Disputed Paracel Islands

U.S. Navy officials dismissed claims China drove away one of its warships that passed through the disputed Paracel Islands on Monday, saying Beijing's statement is "false."

The USS Benfold carried out a maneuver near the small archipelago earlier today, located east of Vietnam and south of China, which the U.S. Navy said was "consistent with international law."

Chinese authorities fired back at the move and claimed they were able to drive away the warship from the disputed islands.

According to Reuters, China's military said on Monday it "drove away" the USS Benfold, which Beijing claimed had illegally entered its waters.

But, the U.S. Navy hit back with a fiery statement of its own and branded Beijing's version of events as being "false."

A statement issued by the U.S. 7th Fleet public affairs on Monday read: "The PRC's (People's Republic of China's) statement about this mission is false.

"USS Benfold conducted this FONOP (freedom of navigation operation) in accordance with international law and then continued on to conduct normal operations in international waters. The operation reflects our commitment to uphold freedom of navigation and lawful uses of the sea as a principle.

"The United States will continue to fly, sail, and operate wherever international waters allows, as USS Benfold did here. Nothing PRC says otherwise will deter us."

Its statement continued: "The PLA(N)'s [People's Liberation Army Navy] statement is the latest in a long string of PRC actions to misrepresent lawful U.S. maritime operations and assert its excessive and illegitimate maritime claims at the expense of its Southeast Asian neighbors in the South China Sea.

"The PRC's behavior stands in contrast to the United States' adherence to international law and our vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific region. All nations, large and small, should be secure in their sovereignty, free from coercion, and able to pursue economic growth consistent with accepted international rules and norms."

While the Paracel Islands are under the de facto administration of China, they do face sovereignty claims from both Taiwan and Vietnam.

The Paracel Islands are located in the hotly-contended South China Sea, much of which China has made ambitious moves to claim.

But, in 2016 the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague ruled that China had no historic title over the South China Sea, a ruling that Beijing has said it would not view as legitimate.

Controversial Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, who has been courting Beijing officials, said last month the court ruling against China was "just a piece of paper."

Beijing has laid claim to hundreds of islands in the resource-rich South China Sea that officials say fall within its so-called nine-dash line, taken from pre-war Chinese maps of the region and said to show Beijing's sea claims.

The South China Sea reportedly holds an estimated 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 11 billion barrels of oil in proved and probable reserves, with more to be potentially discovered, according to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative.

This dispute has led the U.S. Navy to send several warships to the area in a bid to support allies in the region and curb Chinese ambitions.

In May, the USS Curtis Wilbur also conducted a freedom of navigation operation near the Paracel Islands, in a move Beijing called "illegal entry" of its waters.

Newsweek has contacted the U.S. Navy for comment.

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold sails in formation during exercise Malabar 2018 in the Philippine Sea on June 15. On Monday, the U.S. Navy rubbished claims it had been driven away from the Paracel Islands. Reuters

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