BEIJING, China - Even as tensions due to North Korea’s nuclear attack threat to the U.S. continues to ratchet up tensions in Asia, China has warned against a completely different conflict with the U.S.
On Friday, China warned the U.S. over festering dispute and stirring regional conflict, a day after a U.S. Navy destroyer, the John S. McCain passed near Mischief Reef, which China claims as its territory.
Beijing said that American naval operations in the South China Sea would only force it to deepen its military buildup there.
U.S. conducts freedom of navigation operations near contested islands and reefs across the South China Sea, in a show of force since it does not accept that China or any other claimant can legally challenge an American naval presence in the area.
Later, in a separate statement, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of National Defense accused the U.S. of stirring regional conflict and suggested that such operations bolstered China’s case for building military facilities across the sea to defend its claimed territory.
The islands and the adjacent waters in the sea are also claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines and other governments.
Despite multiple countries claiming the Mischief Reef, China has used dredged sand to expand the original reef into an artificial island that today is big enough to hold an airstrip.
On Thursday, American officials confirmed that the John S. McCain passed within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef, which is part of the Spratly Islands.
The reef is about 150 miles from Palawan, the nearest major Philippine island, and more than 650 miles southeast of Hainan, a Chinese island-province that reaches into the South China Sea.
Geng Shuang, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the passage by the John S. McCain violated Chinese and international law and “did serious harm to Chinese sovereignty and security.”
Further, Senior Col. Wu Qian, a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Defense said on the official website on Friday, “We strongly urge the United States to immediately mend its ways and end illegal provocations in the name of so-called freedom of navigation. The American military provocation will only induce the Chinese military to further build up various defensive capacities.”
China is also at loggerheads with the U.S. over the Trump Administration’s claims that Beijing has not done enough to compel North Korea to stop its missile tests and nuclear weapons development.
While the Chinese government has been largely neutral in the matter, it fears a violent response from North Korea on one end, that would lead to a migrant crisis along its borders, on the other end, it is putting itself in the path of conflict with America by not condemning Pyongyang.
On Thursday, Trump suggested that he might spare China trade penalties if it did more to curtail North Korea.
He said, “If China helps us, I feel a lot differently toward trade.”
While China has not responded to Trump’s comments, it lashed out at the latest American naval operation underscoring that it has its own geopolitical sore points with the White House.
These also include the controversial weapons sales to Taiwan and the repeated freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea.
U.S. and its regional allies have often accused Beijing of inflaming tensions in the South China Sea by militarizing the islands and reefs, refusing multilateral negotiations over overlapping territorial claims and spurning a Hague ruling last year from the international tribunal that rejected the legality of China’s claims to much of the sea.