The U.S Destroyer, USS William P. Lawrence sailed within 12 nautical miles of a Chinese artificial island on Tuesday to demonstrate that the United States is acting to counter China’s aggressiveness in the South China Sea.
Twelve nautical miles is the line that delineates the limit of a country’s territorial waters. The destroyer passed Fiery Cross Reef, a Spratly Islands reef that is claimed by multiple nations.
According to the commander Bill Urban, a Pentagon spokesman, the destroyer is exercising the “right of innocent passage” during a freedom of navigation operation.
“This operation demonstrates, as President Obama has stated, that the United States will fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows,””said Urban. “That is [as] true in the South China Sea as in other places around the globe.”
“These excessive maritime claims are inconsistent with international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea convention in that they purport to restrict the navigation rights that the United States and all states are entitled to exercise,” Urban said in an emailed statement.
The first ones to report on the operation was the Wall Street Journal. They said the destroyer made only one “innocent passage” near the island.
According to the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea, which China has ratified, innocent passage allows ships to pass through any waters, including territorial waters.
The presence of the USS William P. Lawrence prompted the Chinese military to send three fighter jets and three ships to monitor the destroyer until it left the area.
Some nations think that military vessels are excluded without prior notice of movement, but the United States rejects this idea.
China claims roughly 90% of the South China Sea based on what they claim to be historical rights, but the Fiery Cross Reef’s status under international law is uncertain. If the reef were to be entirely submerged, the island would be considered an artificial island which can not be claimed as territorial waters unless it were close to a natural land feature.
“The American naval vessel threatened China’s sovereignty, security and interests, and it harmed the safety of the people and facilities in the island, damaging regional stability,” Lu Kang, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said during a news conference. “As we have stressed over and over again, China firmly opposes such behavior and we will take necessary measures to safeguard China’s sovereignty and territory.”
In recent months, the Chinese have built a military facility with an airstrip, radar towers, a helipad and a port on the artificial island.
China in recent years has been involved in multiple territorial disputes in the South China Sea between many countries such as the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan and others.
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