China has accused the American Independence-class littoral combat ship USS Gabrielle Giffords of “illegally” entering the disputed waters of the Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea, claiming that the move “infringes China’s sovereignty and safety, disrupts regional peace and stability and violates international law and the basic norms of international relations,” according to China’s Southern Theater Command.
The United States 7th Fleet rejected China’s claims, telling NBC that the vessel was “was conducting routine operations in international waters in the South China Sea, consistent with international law,” adding that “The operations demonstrate we are committed to upholding a free and open Indo-Pacific region.”
On Monday, USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS 10) illegally entered the waters near China's Ren'ai Jiao, and the PLA Southern Theater Command organized naval forces to closely monitor and warn the ship. The deliberate disturbance by the US in the South China Sea severely infringes upon… pic.twitter.com/eTUTw8ftza
— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) December 3, 2023
The waters are claimed by several nations, but its disputed claims between China and the Philippines have been a political focal point in recent months as Chinese naval vessels have blocked supply runs to a Philippine ship-turned-outpost on the shoal called “Sierra Madre, which sits in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
In October, a Chinese Coast Guard Vessel rammed a Philippine Coast Guard vessel and an accompanying supply ship heading towards the Sierra Madre, which was condemned by the United States and Philippines. China accused the Philippine vessels of trespassing and crying out illegal activities.
This all leads into the wider issue of Chinese territorial claims across the South China Sea, which has been rejected by a 2016 United Nations tribunal that ruled that China has no legal basis for its claims.