BEIJING - China's military said on Monday it "drove away" a U.S. warship that illegally entered Chinese waters near the Paracel Islands on Monday, the anniversary of an international court ruling that Beijing has no claim over the South China Sea.
The USS Benfold entered the waters of the Paracels without the approval of the Chinese government, seriously violating China's sovereignty and undermining the stability of the South China Sea, the People's Liberation Army's Southern Theatre Command said.
"We urge the United States to immediately stop such provocative actions," the Southern Theatre Command said in a statement.
The U.S. Navy did not immediately comment.
The Paracels are among hundreds of islands, reefs and atolls in the resources-rich South China Sea contested by China, Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei, with Beijing claiming historic rights to resources within its so-called nine-dash line, or most of the region.
On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled that China had no historic title over the South China Sea. It also said China had interfered with traditional Philippine fishing rights at Scarborough Shoal and breached the Philippines' sovereign rights by exploring for oil and gas near the Reed Bank.
In a written statement on Sunday, U.S. State Secretary Antony Blinken said freedom of the seas was an "enduring" interest of all nations.
"Nowhere is the rules-based maritime order under greater threat than in the South China Sea," Blinken said.
"The People's Republic of China continues to coerce and intimidate Southeast Asian coastal states, threatening freedom of navigation in this critical global throughway."
(Reporting by Ryan Woo; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)