US Navy ship makes first China visit to ‘establish relationships’ since ruling over South China Sea

  • USS Benfold touched base at northern Chinese port of Qingdao on Monday
  • Beijing reacted furiously to decision that its broad South China Sea oceanic cases had no premise in law
  • China has reasserted its historic claim to plentiful fish stocks, its islands, reefs and virtually the entire strategically essential water body

A US Navy guided missile destroyer made its first visit to China to ‘build relationships’ since the arbitration ruling over the South China Sea.

The USS Benfold arrived in the northern Chinese port of Qingdao on Monday in the first visit by an American warship to the state since Beijing replied angrily to an arbitration panel’s opinion that its expansive South China Sea marine claims had no basis in law.

Speaking briefly to media, Cmdr Only L Harts said the visit planned to ‘build relationships’ with counterparts from the Chinese Navy, but referred questions on tensions in the South China Sea to Pacific Command in Hawaii.

Admiral Scott Swift, the top US naval officer in Asia, intends to meet the media Tuesday in Qingdao.

China refused to take part in the arbitration and rejected last month’s ruling by the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration in a case commenced by the Philippines.

Beijing has repeatedly blamed the US for stirring up trouble in the South China Sea, where its territorial claims overlap in parts with Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

Last week, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the US, Japan and Australia were ‘fanning the flames’ of regional tensions after they released a joint statement urging China not to build military outposts or recover land in the contested waters.

Since the ruling, China has repeatedly reasserted its historic claim to virtually the whole strategically critical water body, its islands, reefs, abundant fish stocks and other resources.

It is also started flying air patrols, with one announced on Saturday featuring bomber and fighter aircraft, in the airspace around the Spratly Islands, Scarborough Shoal and contiguous places.