Vietnamese commentators, however, were quick to welcome the move, saying that only the U.S. has the power to restrain China’s territorial ambitions and its efforts to assert sovereignty over most of the South China Sea. “China will resolutely respond to any country’s deliberate provocations”, the ministry said in a statement that gave no details on precisely where the U.S. ship sailed.
China said two of its vessels had shadowed the USS Lassen.
Tuesday’s sail-past was Washington’s most significant effort to date to demonstrate that China’s manmade islands can not be considered sovereign territory with the right to surrounding territorial waters. A foreign ministry spokesman in Beijing said “the US risks being a fool by trying to look smart”, as China might decide to accelerate boosting its defences.
Tensions have mounted since China transformed reefs in the area into small islands capable of supporting military facilities, a move the United States says threatens freedom of navigation.
“We will fly, sail and operate anywhere in the world that worldwide law allows”, the official said.
“We’ll do that at times and places of our choosing”, Carter said.
Beijing’s and Washington’s divergent perspectives are rooted in radically different national and regional strategies. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan have rival claims.
Tuesday’s exercise came as China’s Communist leaders held a sensitive policy meeting in the capital, but Foreign Minister Wang Yi provided a measured response to the news. “Approximately sixty per cent of Australia’s exports pass through the South China Sea”, she said.
Beijing has until now only used vessels from its various coast guard agencies to patrol the disputed waters.
The Philippines, a vocal critic of China’s activities in the South China Sea, welcomed the USA action.
Analysts say the long planned intervention by the U.S. navy indicates that the White House was not satisfied with the verbal assurances offered by President Xi.
The People’s Liberation Army should use force if the United States “encroaches on China’s core interests”, it added.