South China Sea: US challenges China’s claims with Spratly mission

Teddy Ng
·3-min read

A US destroyer sailed by the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea on Wednesday in the latest challenge to Beijing’s claims over the disputed waters.

The US Navy’s Seventh Fleet said the USS Russell “asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the Spratly Islands, consistent with international law”.

“This freedom of navigation operation upheld the rights, freedoms and lawful uses of the sea recognised in international law by challenging unlawful restrictions on innocent passage imposed by China, Vietnam and Taiwan,” it said.

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“Unlawful and sweeping maritime claims in the South China Sea pose a serious threat to the freedom of the sea, including freedom of navigation and overflight, free trade and unimpeded commerce, and freedom of economic opportunity for South China Sea littoral nations.”

South China Sea: the dispute that could start a military conflict

China claims sovereignty over the entire archipelago, but Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have lodged competing claims for some or all of the islands.

Beijing’s extensive territorial claims in the resource-rich waters have become a hot-button issue in its testy relationship with the United States. The two countries are at odds over trade, the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, Hong Kong, Taiwan and accusations of human rights abuses against Uygur Muslims in Xinjiang.

Washington has denounced what it called Beijing’s attempts to bully neighbours with competing interests. China has repeatedly attacked what it calls US efforts to foment unrest in the region and interfere in what it regards as its internal affairs.

South China Sea: US destroyer sails near Spratly Islands to ‘assert navigational rights’

The US Navy said US forces operated in the South China Sea on a daily basis, and in close coordination with allies and partners to uphold a free and open international order.

“All of our operations are designed to be conducted professionally and in accordance with international law and demonstrate that the US will fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows – regardless of the location of excessive maritime claims and regardless of current events,” the Seventh Fleet said.

Early this month, the destroyer USS John S. McCain transited the Taiwan Strait and patrolled close to the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.

USS Theodore Roosevelt and USS Nimitz followed with an operation in the South China Sea last week, the second joint operation by two American aircraft carrier strike groups in the waters in seven months.

Some European countries have also increased their presence in the waters to push back at Beijing’s activities in the region.

The French attack nuclear submarine Emeraude and a naval support ship patrolled the region earlier this week, and the Royal Navy plans to send the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier through the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait to the East China Sea.

Germany has also said it will send a frigate to patrol the Indo-Pacific this year.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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