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US Navy denies claims that USS Benfold was ‘expelled' from Chinese waters

The US Navy (USN) has denied Chinese reports claiming that one of Washington's destroyers was “expelled” out of “China's territorial waters” near the Paracel Islands on 12 July.

“Without authorisation from the Chinese government, the US guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold illegally trespassed into China's territorial waters of Xisha…,” Chinese state-controlled Global Times reported on the same day using the Chinese term for the group of islands.

“…the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Southern Theater Command organised maritime and aerial forces to track and monitor it and expelled it,” Global Times added, citing Senior Colonel Tian Junli, spokesperson of the command.

The Paracel Islands is a cluster of about 130 coral islands and reefs in the South China Sea. The islands are claimed either partially or wholly by China, Vietnam, and Taiwan, and have been the subject of several armed confrontations, including the 1974 battle between China and Vietnam.

In a statement on the 12 July incident, the USN described Benfold 's operations as a challenge to “the unlawful restrictions on innocent passage imposed by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam”. Benfold was also challenging China's claim to strait baselines enclosing the Paracel Islands, the service added.

“The [People's Republic of China's] statement about this mission is false. USS Benfold conducted this FONOP [freedom of navigation operation] in accordance with international law and then continued on to conduct normal operations in international waters,” said the USN.

“The [People's Liberation Army Navy] statement is the latest in a long string of PRC actions to misrepresent lawful US maritime operations and assert its excessive and illegitimate maritime claims at the expense of its Southeast Asian neighbours in the South China Sea,” it added.

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