‘Focus on Covid-19 at home’: China’s army spokesperson while US warships are near the South China Sea

A US Navy vessel opens fire during a war games exercise in the South China Sea in 2016. Photo: Facebook. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

BEIJING, Apr 29, 2020, Hindustan Times. China scrambled aircraft and sortied ships to track and expel a frontline US warship from near a Beijing-controlled island chain in the South China Sea on Tuesday, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has said, Hindustan Times reported.

Accusing the guided-missile destroyer USS Barry of carrying out a “provocative act” and violating Chinese sovereignty, the PLA’s southern command said the intrusion of the American warship prompted it to “track, monitor, verify, identify and expel” it.

The incident took place off the Paracel Islands, known as the Xisha Islands in China, and the Hoang Sa Archipelago in Vietnam, in the South China Sea.

A cluster of more than 30 islands, they are controlled by Beijing but also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam.

China claims nearly the entire South China Sea but those claims are disputed by several maritime neighbours including Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia besides Vietnam and Taiwan (which China says is a breakaway region.)

The route taken by the US warship, which also earlier crossed the Taiwan Straits, prompted strong response and reaction from China.

“The US’ provocative actions seriously violated international law and related norms, seriously violated Chinese sovereignty and security interests, and intentionally increased regional security risks,” a statement posted on the military unit’s WeChat social media account quoted Li Huamin, a command spokesperson, as saying.

Referring to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, Li added that the incident could have “…easily caused an accident, and is against the context in which the international community is making concentrated efforts to fight the pandemic and the common will of countries in the South China Sea to safeguard peace and stability in the region”.

“We urge the US side to focus on the epidemic prevention and control on its homeland, contribute more to the international fight against the pandemic and immediately stop military actions against regional security, peace and stability,” Li said.

According to the US-based non-profit US Naval Institute, the The FONOP (freedom of navigation operations) from the Japan-based USS Barry closely follows the destroyer transiting the Taiwan Strait twice this month.

“A day after Barry’s April 22 transit, the Chinese (aircraft carrier) Liaoning Carrier Strike Group also transited the Taiwan Strait. In addition to the presence operations, the destroyer has been active in the South China Sea operating with guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill (CG-52) and amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA-6) off the coast of Malaysia near an ongoing dispute over mineral exploration between Malaysia and China,” the USNI said.

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