By K J M Varma
Beijing, Jan 7 (PTI) China lodged a "stern" diplomatic protest with the US on Monday after its guided-missile destroyer sailed near disputed islands in the South China Sea, asserting that America should stop such "provocative" action and create an enabling environment for successful negotiations on the ongoing trade dispute.
The US guided-missile destroyer McCampbell sailed near the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea as officials of both the countries kicked off their first face-to-face talks here to resolve the trade dispute during which the world's top two economies have imposed import duties on more than USD 300 billion of each other's goods.
US Pacific Fleet spokeswoman Rachel McMarr said US vessel carried out a freedom of navigation operation, sailing within 12 nautical miles of the Paracel Island chain, "to challenge excessive maritime claims".
China claims almost all of the South China Sea and has constructed military installations in artificial islands built by it. Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have counter claims over the South China Sea. The Paracel Islands are claimed by China, Taiwan and Vietnam.
The US has been conducting naval and air patrols periodically through the area to assert freedom of navigation inviting strong criticism from China.
Asked for his reaction on the American ship sailing through the Paracel islands which China claims Xisha islands, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said Beijing has lodged strong protest to the US on this.
He said the US ship sailed through the area without the permission from the Chinese side. China had sent its naval vessel to verify and warn it, he said.
“We also launched stern representation (diplomatic protest) to the US side on this. The US action violated the international law and destroyed the peace, safety and order in the relevant waters. We firmly oppose that. We urge the US side to stop such provocative action. China will continue to take necessary actions to safeguard its national security and sovereignty," he said.
"On whether this operation will affect the ongoing trade talks between the two sides, I believe proper resolution of trade disputes is conducive to the world. It is imperative for the two sides to create enabling environment for the talks at this time," he said.
The timing of Monday's foray by the US naval ship coincided with the commencement of trade talks between the two countries.
The US and China have been locked in an escalating trade spat since early 2018, raising import tariffs on each other's goods.
Last year, US President Donald Trump imposed tariff hikes of up to 25 per cent on USD 250 billion of Chinese goods. The move prompted China to increase tariffs on USD 110 billion of US goods.
Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to halt any further tariff increases for 90 days beginning January 1. PTI KJV PMS AKJ PMS