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US Navy responds after China claims American warship ‘illegally intruded’ into the South China Sea


China has accused a U.S. naval ship of having “illegally intruded” into waters near the Second Thomas Shoal, an area of hot territorial dispute between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea.

The Chinese military ordered its naval force to mobilize and track the USS Gabrielle Giffords on Monday after China claimed the warship violated its sovereign waters, according to a statement from the People’s Liberation Army Southern Theater.

“The U.S. deliberately disrupted the situation in the South China Sea, seriously violated China’s sovereignty and security, seriously undermined regional peace and stability, and seriously violated international law and basic norms governing international relations, fully demonstrating that the U.S. is the biggest threat to peace and stability in the South China Sea,” the Chinese military’s Southern Theater said.

The U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet denied the accusation, saying the ship “was conducting routine operations in international waters … consistent with international law.” The USS Giffords is a littoral combat ship designed to operate in coastal areas.

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US ship, Chinese vessel

In this handout photo released by Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippines BRP Jose Rizal (FF150), right, and USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS 10) during a tactical exercise between Philippines and the United States in the West Philippine Sea on Thursday Nov. 23, 2023.  (Armed Forces of the Philippines via AP)

Chinese and Philippine naval and coast guard ships have confronted each other repeatedly around the shoal in the South China Sea in recent months. Dwarfed by China’s military might, the Philippines has sought American help in these territorial disputes.

China also accused the U.S. of meddling in waters far from its shores and renewed its charge that America is escalating regional tensions, prompting a response from the U.S. Navy.

Two naval ships riding near each other

The Chinese military said on Dec. 4 that American naval ship USS Gabriel Giffords had “illegally intruded” on Monday into waters near the Second Thomas Shoal, the site of a hot territorial dispute between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea.  (Armed Forces of the Philippines via AP)

The U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet, based in Japan, said its operations in the South China Sea demonstrate a commitment “to upholding a free and open Indo-Pacific region where all nations, large and small, are secure in their sovereignty, can resolve disputes without coercion, and have the freedom to navigate and fly consistent with international laws, rules and norms.”

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Chinese militia ships

In this handout photo provided by the Philippine Coast Guard, suspected Chinese militia ships stay near the Philippine-claimed reef called Whitsun, locally known as Julian Felipe reef, at the disputed South China Sea on Saturday Dec. 2, 2023.  (Philippine Coast Guard via AP)

Chinese ships blockading waters

Philippine Coast Guard said on Dec. 3 that they have monitored more than a hundred suspected Chinese militia ships have gathered around the reef near Palawan province, Philippines.  (Philippine Coast Guard via AP)

China claims sovereignty over virtually all the reefs and other outcroppings in the South China Sea. Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also claim they are the rightful owners of the territories, further spurring confusion in the region.

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The U.S. has a long history of patrolling the South China Sea, an important shipping lane and fishing grounds, to ensure regional peace. China’s emergence as a military power over the last 50 years and its growing ambitions to be a regional and global power are challenging long-standing American dominance.

The USS Gabrielle Giffords was commissioned on June 10, 2017 in Galveston, Texas. The warship was named after former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz. It was the third Navy ship ever to be named after a living woman.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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