U.S. 7th Fleet Denies Destroyer was Expelled from South China Sea Island Chain

March 23, 2023 11:47 AM - Updated: March 23, 2023 7:18 PM
Guided-missile destroyer USS Milius (DDG-69) steams alongside the Lewis and Clark-class dry cargo ship USNS Charles Drew (T-AKE-10) during an underway replenishment while operating in the Philippine Sea, March 16. US Navy Photo

- This post has been updated to indicate USS Milius had not been conducting a freedom of navigation operation at the time of the incident. 

The Navy denied that an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile illegally entered China’s maritime territory and was chased off by People’s Liberation Army forces, contradicting claims by China’s Southern Theatre Command.

China claimed early Thursday morning that USS Milius (DDG-69) crossed into its territorial waters around the Paracel Islands and was driven out by Chinese forces, according to three state-run media sites that all tweeted out the same statement.

“The theater forces will maintain a high state of alert at all times and take all necessary measures to resolutely safeguard national sovereignty and security and peace and stability in the South China Sea,” Tian Junli, spokesman for China’s Southern Theatre Command, said.

Japan-based 7th Fleet denied Milius was expelled from the island chain.

“The PRC’s statement is false,” 7th Fleet spokeswoman Cmdr. Haley Sims said in a statement. “USS Milius (DDG 69) is conducting routine operations in the South China Sea and was not expelled. The United States will continue to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows.”

Milius was initially thought to be performing a freedom of navigation operation past the Paracel Island chain in the South China Sea, but officials told USNI News following an earlier version of this post that it did not conduct a FONOP.

Previous U.S. FONOPs near the Paracels have tested China’s claims of a vast territorial sea over the island chain – contrary to international law. China also requires prior notification of warships before entering the claimed waters.

Two days prior, Milius sailed in the Sea of Japan as part of a bilateral exercise with Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force JS Atago (DDG-177), according to a news release from the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.

Heather Mongilio

Heather Mongilio

Heather Mongilio is a reporter with USNI News. She has a master’s degree in science journalism and has covered local courts, crime, health, military affairs and the Naval Academy.
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