China said it dispatched ships and planes to track the US guided-missile destroyer John S. McCain as it passed near Chinese-held islands in the South China Sea.
The People's Liberation Army accused the US warship of trespassing into Chinese territorial waters on Friday near the Paracel Islands — called Xisha by China — during the latest freedom of navigation missions by the US Navy aimed at defying China's vast claims in the strategic waterway.
Spokesperson for the PLA's Southern Theatre Command Senior Colonel Zhang Nandong said Beijing demanded the US end such actions, calling them "blatant navigation hegemony and military provocation" that "seriously violated China's sovereignty and security interests, and gravely jeopardised peace and stability in the South China Sea".
"We urges the US side to immediately stop such kind of provocative actions, strictly manage and control its maritime and air military operations so as not to cause any eventuality," Zhang was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua News Agency.
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China claims sovereignty over virtually the entire South China Sea, which is also claimed in whole or in part by Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam. Frictions between China and Indonesia have also increased over activities by China's fishing vessels, the coast guard and navy within Indonesia's exclusive economic zone.
China ignored a 2016 arbitration ruling that invalidated most of its territorial claims in the South China Sea, but has encountered persistent pushback from the US, its allies and China's Southeast Asian neighbours over its moves to cement its control in the disputed area.