Earlier this week, the Pentagon announced that the U.S. Navy planned on sending a destroyer into disputed waters in the South China Sea. In the first of a series of missions, the USS Lassen would breach the 12-mile “buffer” zone around the man-made islands in the Spratly archipelago as a way of challenging China’s belligerent assertions of sovereignty in those waters.

Today, China rebuked the US for this “freedom of navigation” patrol, protesting it as a form of harassment, and announced that they had “shadowed” the Lassen:

The U.S. destroyer sailed within 12 nautical miles of Subi Reef, one of seven artificial islands built up by China in the past year.

A Chinese guided-missile destroyer and a naval patrol ship shadowed and gave warnings to the U.S. warship “according to law”, China’s Defense Ministry said.

The U.S. patrol was a “coercive action that seeks to militarize the South China Sea region” and an “abuse” of freedom of navigation under international law, it said.

China’s navy said the “air arm” was also involved, but gave no details.

The Chinese government broadcast a statement over state-run CCTV, telling the US to “think again,” and to not make trouble for nothing.

The media followed a similar narrative, accusing the United States of harassing China. More from The Guardian:

Twenty-four hours after Washington challenged Beijing’s territorial claims in the region by deploying a warship to waters around the disputed Spratly archipelago, the notoriously nationalistic Global Times accused the Pentagon of provoking China.

“In [the] face of the US harassment, Beijing should deal with Washington tactfully and prepare for the worst,” the newspaper argued in an editorial on Wednesday.

“This can convince the White House that China, despite its unwillingness, is not frightened to fight a war with the US in the region, and is determined to safeguard its national interests and dignity.”

The People’s Liberation Army Daily, China’s leading military newspaper, used a front-page editorial to accuse the US of sowing chaos in countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq.

“Cast-iron facts show that time and again the United States recklessly uses force and starts wars, stirring things up where once there was stability, causing the bitterest of harm to those countries directly involved,” the newspaper said, according to Reuters.

China asserts indisputable sovereignty over the waters in this region—a claim that has been rejected by several governments, including the United States. The problem is that, although international law allows nation states to claim waters within 12 nautical miles of their coastal territory, those provisions do not apply to reefs or other mostly-submerged masses that have been built up, or “reclaimed.”

The Pentagon has responded to China’s protests by asserting the right of all nations to freely navigate the South China Sea.

Featured Image via CCTV and Reuters.

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