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In the early hours of Thursday morning, the Chinese military said that it drove away a U.S. guided missile destroyer that had "illegally" enter Chinese-claimed waters in the South China Sea.
According to the Southern Theatre Command of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA), the USS Milius entered waters near the disputed Paracel Islands before being warned by the PLA and allegedly driven away by the Chinese military. The U.S. and its Western allies have long denied that the waters belong to China after Beijing militarized several island chains in the region years ago.
While China's account of Thursday's incident indicates that the PLA forced the U.S. destroyer to leave the waters, the U.S. Navy's 7th Fleet denies the claims.
Lt. j.g. Luka Bakic referred to the destroyer's actions as part of a routine operation in international waters and said of the incident, "USS Milius is conducting routine operations in the South China Sea and was not expelled" and added that "The United States will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows."
The Chinese continue to disagree with a PLA spokesman calling the event an "illegal incursion into Chinese territorial waters... without permission from the Chinese government, harming peace and stability" in the region.
"The theatre forces will maintain a high state of alert at all times and take all necessary measures to resolutely safeguard national sovereignty and security and peace and stability in the South China Sea," the spokesman concluded.
The Parcel Islands are claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan, both U.S. allies, which has caused encounters with rival vessels to quickly escalate into intense standoffs.
The U.S. for years has consistently maintained that incidents that the PLA is calling "illegal incursions" are really 'innocent passages' that follow international maritime law, which means that permission is not needed to transit through the disputed waters. Beijing, however, has always challenged Washington's stance on U.S. intrusions into waters the Chinese see as theirs.