The guided-missile destroyer Benfold conducted its third transit through the South China Sea in a week — prompting the Chinese government to label the move as a provocation.
The destroyer transited through the Taiwan Strait on Tuesday through international waters and in accordance with international maritime law, according to the U.S. 7th Fleet.
“The ship transited through a corridor in the Strait that is beyond the territorial sea of any coastal State,” the 7th Fleet said in a statement. “The ship’s transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the United States’ commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
The Benfold also conducted another freedom of navigation operation near the Spratly Islands on July 16. Additionally, the destroyer conducted a freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea near the Paracel Islands on July 13, causing the Chinese government to claim it monitored and drove away the ship.
But the 7th Fleet said that the Chinese statement was the “latest in a long string of [People’s Republic of China] actions to misrepresent lawful U.S. maritime operations.”
In response to Tuesday’s transit, Beijing accused the U.S. of eroding peace and stability in the region.
“The frequent provocations and showing off by the United States fully demonstrate that the United States is a destroyer of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and a maker of security risks in the Taiwan Strait,” the People’s Liberation Army’s Eastern Theater Command said in a statement, according to Reuters. “Theater forces remain on high alert at all times and resolutely defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
China, which considers Taiwan part of its territory, has issued similar statements when U.S. warships have previously transited through the Taiwan Strait. For example, China said the destroyer Milius’ transit through the Taiwan Strait in November was impairing regional stability and peace.
The Benfold is assigned to the Reagan carrier strike group.
The carrier deployed from Yokosuka, Japan, in May and moved into the South China Sea for the first time during the deployment last week to conduct flight operations with fixed and rotary-wing aircraft, maritime strike exercises and coordinated tactical training with surface and air units.