This was the fourth such operation in the past year and the Decatur was shadowed by three Chinese ships. According to China's Ministry of National Defense, a guided-missile destroyer and a guided-missile frigate were dispatched to identify and expel the US vessel.
“All Western media have noted that the US maneuver was conducted during Philippines President Duterte's state visit to China in which bilateral relations have been restored with the signing of a series of cooperative agreements,” online newspaper Global Times reported.
According to the publication this was a provocation by the US, deliberately sending a message to the world that “it doesn't want to see peace in the South China Sea and that it wants waves there. If no one helps it, it will make them itself.”
The ministry warns that the Chinese military will reinforce its surveillance and defense power in the region in order to resolutely protect China's national interests.
“The foreign ministry urges the US Navy to stop actions which go against China's sovereignty and maritime interests,” online newspaper People’s Daily reported.
The South China Sea is a highly-contested region through which roughly $5 trillion in international trade passes annually. Most of it is claimed by China, but there are overlapping claims by Brunei, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Malaysia.
The United States has no claims in the region, but it has pressured regional allies to help stymie China’s growth.
Recently, however, the Philippines have begun to move away from its partnership with the US. Newly-elected President Rodrigo Duterte has taken steps to become closer with China.