• China said its "Southern Theater Command organized naval and air forces to track and dispel the U.S. ship"
  • The U.S. Navy said its warship conducted the freedom of navigation operation in accordance with international law
  • It is the first operation since the U.S. President Joe Biden met his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Bali on Nov. 14

Despite efforts by the two nations to cool tensions, relations between Washington and Beijing continued on a collision course Tuesday as the Navy rejected China's claim that it had "tracked and dispelled" a U.S. warship from waters near the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

"The actions of the U.S. military have seriously violated China's sovereignty and security, which is another ironclad evidence of its pursuit of navigation hegemony and militarization of the South China Sea," Senior Col. Tian Junli, spokesman of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Southern Theater Command said in a press statement Tuesday, adding that the Chinese "Southern Theater Command organized naval and air forces to track and dispel the U.S. ship," according to nonprofit news service Radio Free Asia.

"China has indisputable sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and their adjacent waters," Tian reportedly said.

Calling the U.S. "a true producer of security risks in the South China Sea," the Chinese military accused that the U.S. warship Chancellorsville, a guided-missile cruiser, "illegally entered the waters near China's Nansha Islands and reefs without the approval of the Chinese government," CNN reported.

There is an ongoing territorial dispute over "ownership" of the Spratly Islands between China, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei. China claims "indisputable sovereignty" over almost all of the South China Sea, including the Spratly Islands, known in China as the Nansha Islands.

Rejecting China's claim, the Navy termed the PLA accusation as "false," adding that the U.S. upholds freedom of navigation for all nations as a principle.

"The United States upholds freedom of navigation for all nations as a principle. As long as some countries continue to claim and assert limits on rights that exceed their authority under international law, the United States will continue to defend the rights and freedoms of the sea guaranteed to all," a news release from the U.S. Navy's 7th Fleet said.

"No member of the international community should be intimidated or coerced into giving up their rights and freedoms," the news release continued.

The U.S. warship Chancellorsville carried out a freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) in the South China Sea near the Spratly Islands Tuesday. Homeported in Yokosuka, Japan, the USS Chancellorsville is a Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser currently deployed to Carrier Strike Group 5, which is part of the U.S. Navy's 7th Fleet.

The U.S. Navy then said its warship conducted the FONOP "in accordance with international law and then continued on to conduct normal operations in waters where high seas freedoms apply."

The news release also pointed out that China's "behavior stands in contrast to the United States' adherence to international law and our vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific region. All nations, large and small, should be secure in their sovereignty, free from coercion, and able to pursue economic growth consistent with accepted international rules and norms."

The FONOP carried out by USS Chancellorsville is the first such operation since U.S. President Joe Biden met with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, in Bali, Indonesia, on the sidelines of the G20 summit on Nov. 14.

At their meeting in Bali, both leaders spoke of cooperation and communication to manage differences, with Biden underscoring that competition between the two countries should not veer into conflict. The Chinese president said relations between the countries should not be that of which one nation tries to out-compete or thrive at the expense of the other.

Relations between the U.S. and China reached their lowest point in decades in August after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan. Beijing responded by ordering several days of military drills around Taiwan, which China claims to be part of its territory and has long vowed to "reunify" with the mainland, by force if necessary. The U.S. has repeatedly warned that it would intervene "militarily" should China attempt an invasion of Taiwan.

USS Chancellorsville (CG 62)
SOUTH CHINA SEA (Nov. 29, 2022) Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville (CG 62) conducts routine underway operations in the South China Sea, Nov. 29. Chancellorsville is forward-deployed to the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Justin Stack/U.S. Navy photo