US Navy
© FacebookUS naval vessel plies the South China Sea
The United States and Chinese military have engaged in a verbal dispute regarding a U.S. naval vessel that sailed through the South China Sea over the weekend.

The Chinese People's Liberation Army Southern Theatre Command said the Chinese military deployed its naval and air forces to "track, monitor and warn away" a U.S. Navy destroyer, while the U.S.'s 7th Fleet said the USS Hopper "asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the South China Sea near the Paracel Islands, consistent with international law."

China said the incident "proves that the United States is an out-and-out 'security risk creator' in the South China Sea," while the U.S. military routinely argues it conducts these operations in order to challenge excessive maritime claims across the globe.

China, Vietnam, and Taiwan each claim sovereignty over the Paracel Islands, which are in the South China Sea. The U.S. Navy conducted the freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) to challenge each country's requirement that outsiders seek permission or provide advance notification prior to a military vessel or warship passing through the sea, which the U.S. argues is a violation of international law.

Commander Vice Admiral Karl Thomas, U.S. 7th Fleet Public Affairs, said in a statement:
"The unilateral imposition of any authorization or advance-notification requirement for innocent passage [is] unlawful. By engaging in innocent passage without giving prior notification to or asking permission from any of the claimants, the United States challenged these unlawful restrictions imposed by the PRC, Taiwan, and Vietnam. The United States demonstrated that innocent passage [is] not subject to such restrictions."
China frequently criticizes the U.S. Navy's freedom of navigation operations in the Pacific as Beijing seeks to dominate the region and push the U.S. out of the Pacific.

Earlier this month, President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping announced the resumption of military-to-military communications between the two countries that had been halted for more than a year. Beijing severed those ties back in the summer of 2022, following then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's trip to Taiwan.

The ability of both country's military to communicate with the other allows for deconfliction and lessens the possibility of an unintended escalation between them.

Department of Defense officials warned in October that China had increased the number of unsafe or reckless maneuvers near U.S. aircraft and naval vessels in the Pacific region in recent years, and the lack of military leadership communications only exacerbated the possibility of an unintended increase in tension.