A U.S. warship at the center of a dispute with the Chinese military in the South China Sea over the weekend was obeying international law, a U.S. Navy Commander says.
According to a Nov. 26 report, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Southern Theatre Command reportedly claimed on its WeChat social media account that its naval and air forces were deployed to “track, monitor, and warn away” a U.S. destroyer.
China’s military is calling the incident proof that the “United States is an out-and-out ‘security risk creator’ in the South China Sea.”
This came days after Beijing accused Manila of enlisting foreign forces to patrol the South China Sea, referring to joint patrols by the Philippines and U.S. militaries. The Philippines and Australia also began their first joint sea and air patrols in the sea on Saturday.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which rules over China as a single-party state, has been engaged in an aggressive campaign of expansion throughout the Indo-Pacific for quite a while now. The regime has constructed artificial islands for use as military installations and has tried to coerce other nations in the region to cede power and territory.
The CCP has tried to assert historical claims over most of the South China Sea, including areas where the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei are also asserting their own claims of ownership.
The disputed region is a conduit for more than $3.3 trillion in global maritime trade annually.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in 2016 that China’s claim over the South China Sea has no legal basis—a stance reiterated by experts over the years as tensions over the region continued to simmer.
In a press statement from the Indo-Pacific Command, the Commander of the U.S. 7th Fleet Public Affairs said the USS Hopper, the destroyer in question, “asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the South China Sea near the Paracel Islands,” as is consistent with international law.
“At the conclusion of the operation, USS Hopper exited the excessive claim area and continued operations in the South China Sea,” the press statement said.
“This freedom of navigation operation (“FONOP”) upheld the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law by challenging restrictions on innocent passage imposed by the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Taiwan, and Vietnam.”
‘Right of Innocent Passage’
According to the U.S. 7th Fleet, currently, the three claimants to the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea; Vietnam, China and Taiwan, all demand permission or advance notification before a military vessel passes through the area.
However, the commander says that under customary international law, as reflected in the U.N. Law of the Sea Convention (UNCLOS), all ships, including warships, “enjoy the right of innocent passage through a territorial sea.” China and Vietnam are both signatories of UNCLOS.
The United States will challenge “excessive maritime claims” regardless of the identity of the claimant.
“Unlawful and sweeping maritime claims in the South China Sea pose a serious threat to the freedom of the seas, including the freedoms of navigation and overflight, free trade and unimpeded commerce,” the commander from the 7th Fleet Public Affairs said.
“As long as some countries continue to claim and assert limits on rights that exceed their authority under international law, the United States will continue to defend the rights and freedoms of the sea guaranteed to all,” they added.
Dispute Over South China Sea Ongoing
In recent years, the United States has urged the CCP to work with regional partners to craft a realistic set of rules for the disputed region, although the regime has thus far failed to do so.
Instead, it has engaged in dozens of aggressive acts in the South China Sea. Notably, in October, a CCP naval vessel rammed a ship from the Philippines. Last year, a Chinese fighter jet launched metal shards into the engine of an Australian aircraft.
Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has also sounded the alarm over China increasing its presence in atolls and shoals near the Philippine coast. Mr. Marcos warned that features in the South China Sea are “slowly being turned into bases” by the CCP.
This is all despite CCP leader Xi Jinping promising in 2015, while visiting the White House Rose Garden, that his country would not be pursuing militarization in the South China Sea, and China’s outposts there would not “target or impact any country.”
Xi has since been accused of willfully breaking this promise on more than one occasion.
In 2020, Morgan Ortagus, then U.S. State Department’s spokesperson, accused China of pursuing a “reckless and provocative militarization of those disputed outposts” and using these militarized outposts as platforms of “coercion to assert control over waters to which Beijing has no lawful maritime claim.”
“The CCP does not honor its words or commitments. In recent months, we have seen an unprecedented number of states express their formal opposition at the United Nations to China’s unlawful maritime claims in the South China Sea,” Mr. Ortagus said at the time.
More recently, Admiral Lisa Franchetti, chief of U.S. Naval Operations, said in a Nov. 24 digital press briefing that the U.S. military is committed to preserving the rights of all nations to fly, sail, and operate safely and responsibly wherever international law allows.
“No member of the international community should be intimidated or coerced into giving up their rights and freedoms,” she said.
She also stressed that she expects “all navies to operate in international waters to uphold the rules and norms of proper military behavior on, under, and above the sea.”
Reuters and Andrew Thornebrooke contributed to this report.
From The Epoch Times