China issues stern warning to US warship armed with missiles in South China Sea

China claims it warned a US warship with guided missiles onboard in the South China Sea as tensions mount between the superpowers.

On Thursday, US Navy warship the USS Mustin carried out a routine operation near the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea after Beijing launched four ballistic weapons into the sea on Wednesday.

The US Pacific Fleet confirmed after the USS Mustin (DDG-89) sailed into “the vicinity of the Paracel Islands to contest excessive maritime claims and reinforce laws of the sea in international waters”.

The move was also strategic, to “ensure critical shipping lanes in the area remain free and open”, it said.

Chinese military meanwhile view the manoeuvre as provocative.

It has said the ship was in “China’s territorial waters” and it responded by dispatching naval and aircraft to “expel” the US Navy ship.

“China has indisputable sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and their adjacent waters in the region, and the command troops are always on high alert to resolutely protect national sovereignty and safeguard peace and stability in the region of the South China Sea,” Chinese spokesman Senior Colonel Li Huamin said early on Friday.

The US tactic followed China launching four medium-range "dongfeng" ballistic missiles on Wednesday which hit the South China Sea between Hainan Island and the Paracel Islands.

The same day Washington blacklisted 24 Chinese companies over military actions in the waterway.

It comes as the US and China traded jibes as military tensions spike with the US defense chief vowing not to "cede an inch" in the Pacific.

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China claimed Washington was risking soldiers' lives and both are at loggerheads over issues from technology and human rights to military activities in the disputed South China Sea.

Each accuses the other of deliberately provocative behaviour.

On Thursday, the Pentagon said it was concerned about China's recent military exercises, including the firing of the missiles.

"Conducting military exercises over disputed territory in the South China Sea is counterproductive to easing tensions and maintaining stability," the Pentagon said in a statement.

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It added the US military had told Chinese authorities in July it would continue to monitor the situation with "the expectation the PRC (People's Republic of China) will reduce its militarisation and coercion of its neighbours in the South China Sea".

In Beijing, China's Defence Ministry shot back at "certain US politicians" it said were damaging Sino-US military ties in the run-up to the November election for their own selfish gain, even seeking to create military clashes.

"This kind of behaviour puts the lives of frontline officers and soldiers on both sides at risk," spokesman Wu Qian told reporters at a monthly briefing on Thursday.

China is not scared of "provocation and pressure" from the United States, and will resolutely defend itself and not allow the United States to cause trouble, he added.

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