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South China Sea Tensions Escalate, Risk 'Involving More and More Countries'

© REUTERS / U.S. Navy/Handout via ReutersChinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around Fiery Cross Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea in this still file image from video taken by a P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft provided by the United States Navy
Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around Fiery Cross Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea in this still file image from video taken by a P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft provided by the United States Navy - Sputnik International
China accused the United States of breaching its sovereignty and international law norms after an American warship came close to the Spratly archipelago in the South China Sea. Beijing claims the islands to be part of its territory.

"The USS John S. McCain entered the neighboring waters of relevant islands and reefs of China's Nansha Qundao without the permission of the Chinese government. … The relevant acts of the US warship violated Chinese laws and international law, severely undermined China's sovereignty and security," Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang said in a statement.

In this undated photo released by Xinhua News Agency, a Chinese H-6K bomber patrols the islands and reefs in the South China Sea. - Sputnik International
Still Building: Think Tank Says Beijing Continuing South China Sea Construction
On August 10, a US guided missile destroyer, the USS John S. McCain, sailed within 6 miles of the man-made Mischief Reef in the Spratly archipelago in the South China Sea, during a "freedom of navigation exercise" in the disputed region.

According to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, such actions do not contribute to sustaining stability in the region, being the "biggest factor in the 'militarization' of the South China Sea."

"China has been unswervingly determined to safeguard its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests and uphold peace and stability in the South China Sea. The provocation by the US side has compelled the Chinese side to take measures to further enhance its capability to defend its territory," the spokesperson added.

The U.S. Navy warship USS John McCain, an Arleigh-Burke class destroyer. File photo - Sputnik International
Beijing Outraged as US Destroyer Approaches Disputed South China Sea Island
In turn, the Chinese Defense Ministry urged Washington to stop "provocations" in the South China Sea.

Speaking to Radio Sputnik, Vladimir Terekhov, a Russian expert on the Asia-Pacific region, suggested that the current situation in the region risks further escalation.

"In the long run, the situation may evolve into something similar to the Korean crisis, with systematic escalations or a direct standoff. Tensions are mounting. This is a gradual process, and the problem is that the South China Sea is now becoming a geopolitical whirlpool sucking in more and more countries. This is not good," Terekhov pointed out.

The expert also shared his thought on the possibility of an open military confrontation in the South China Sea.

"The US is still not ready to give up showing its presence in this region. A number of bilateral alliances have been established there since the 1950s. During the presidency of Barack Obama, Washington made attempts to pull out of some of the agreements [concerning security in the region]. The move was opposed by many parties, including European allies, Japan and others, and the US stepped back. But this is the main danger of this geopolitical whirlpool," Terekhov said.

This photo taken on May 10, 2016 shows crew members of China's South Sea Fleet taking part in a logistics supply drill near the James Shoal area on South China Sea - Sputnik International
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Chinese authorities have repeatedly voiced their protests against US actions in the region, which are considered by Beijing as violations of its own sovereignty. In July, Beijing expressed its outrage over a US guided-missile destroyer, the USS Stethem, entering the waters off the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, known in China as the Xisha Islands. According to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, the US actions violated Chinese law, as well as international law and constituted a serious political and military provocation.

In July 2016, The Hague's Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled that China has no rights for territorial claims in the region. According to the ruling, the disputed Spratly Islets are not an exceptional economic zone. China has not recognized the ruling.

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