China bitterly responded to the U.S. destroyer that sailed within 12 miles of its artificial islands in the South China Sea Tuesday, tracking the warship and protesting the U.S. Navy’s decision in a conversation with the U.S. ambassador.
A Chinese guided-missile destroyer and a naval patrol ship shadowed and gave warnings to the U.S. warship "according to law," China’s Defense Ministry said. It said the military would take necessary steps to protect the country’s security. ... China’s Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui summoned U.S. Ambassador Max Baucus, telling him that the patrol was "extremely irresponsible," the Foreign Ministry said. It earlier said the USS Lassen "illegally" entered waters near islands and reefs in the Spratlys without the Chinese government’s permission.
The Navy’s decision to sail the USS Lassen destroyer close to the islands at Subi and Mischief reefs represented the firmest challenge to China’s contested territorial claims in the region. China claims a 12-nautical-mile territorial limit around the manmade islands.
"The actions of the U.S. warship have threatened China’s sovereignty and security interests, jeopardized the safety of personnel and facilities on the reefs, and damaged regional peace and stability," China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on its website. "The Chinese side expresses its strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition."
Defense Secretary Ash Carter confirmed the patrol Tuesday to lawmakers when testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
According to an anonymous Defense Department official, the U.S. warship was followed by a Chinese ship at a safe distance and sailed through the South China Sea without incident.
"I would expect that this becomes a regular operation in the South China Sea," the U.S. official said. "This type of operation shouldn’t be seen as provocative."