- A US guided-missile destroyer sailed through disputed Chinese-claimed waters Monday as the two nations began trade talks in Beijing.
- The talks are meant to ease an increasingly devastating trade war widely seen as the largest threat facing the US economy in 2019.
- As discussions began, destroyer USS McCampbell transited near the Paracel Islands, a disputed chain in the South China Sea.
- The same morning, Chinese media released footage of an air force pilot warning an unidentified aircraft in its claimed air defence zone, although it is unclear when the encounter took place.
In what a Chinese official deemed a “provocation,” the US sent one of its guided-missile destroyers through Chinese claimed waters on Monday as the two nations kicked off trade talks in Beijing.
Reuters reported Thursday that the talks, held between trade representatives from both countries, are meant to begin “positive and constructive discussions,” ultimately aiming to ease an ongoing and increasingly devastating trade war.
But just as the talks began Monday, guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell sailed by the Paracel Islands, one of several hotly contested chains in the South China Sea, according to Reuters.
The same day, Chinese media aired a clip depicting a Chinese air force pilot issuing a warning to an unidentified aircraft in the air defence zone they imposed, although it is unclear when the encounter occurred.
Both encounters took place in areas where China has made sovereignty claims that are not internationally recognised. Vietnam, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines have all made competing claims in the South China Sea; the air defence zone was claimed in 2013 in an attempt to justify China’s grasp for control of the East China Sea, which has been disputed by Japan, according to the South China Morning Post.
Lu Kang, spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said Monday that China had sent warships and aircraft in response, calling the McCampbell’s transit a violation of international law.
“We urge the United States to immediately cease this kind of provocation,” he said.
In a statement emailed to Reuters, Rachel McMarr, spokeswoman for the US Pacific Fleet, said the operation was not meant as a political statement or directed at any one country, but designed to “challenge excessive maritime claims.”
Known as “freedom of navigation” operations, ships and aircraft challenging excessive claims is not a new concept, nor one exclusively practiced by the US. In August 2018, a British amphibious ship sailed close to the Paracels, sparking a confrontation by a Chinese frigate and two aircraft. That same month, the US Defence Department published a map showing instances of Chinese vessels operating in established economic zones of other countries.
While US officials said there is no connection between the transit and the trade talks, Chinese spokesman Kang took a different approach.
“Both sides have a responsibility to create the necessary positive atmosphere for this,” he told state media, according to Reuters.
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