The U.S. Navy Arleigh-Burke Class Guided Missile Destroyer, USS Mustin (DDG-89) sailed past the Paracel Islands Thursday, in defiance of Chinese territorial claims.
In an email provided to American Military News, the U.S. 7th Fleet confirmed the destroyer performed a freedom of navigation operation despite Chinese territorial claims to the island chain. The press release comes after China’s Global Times state media outlet reported Chinese People’s Liberation Army claims, without evidence, that they expelled the U.S. warship.
The 7th Fleet stated, “On Aug. 27 (local date), USS Mustin (DDG 89) asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the vicinity of the Paracel Islands, consistent with international law. This freedom of navigation operation (“FONOP”) upheld the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law by challenging the unlawful restrictions on innocent passage imposed by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam and also by challenging China’s claim to straight baselines enclosing the Paracel Islands.
The 7th Fleet statement makes no references to challenges by Chinese forces in the area in which the FONOP occurred. Still, the Global Times quoted PLA Senior Colonel Li Huamin, who said the PLA Southern Theater Command dispatched naval and air forces to track, identify and warn the ship to leave but Li provided no evidence the U.S. warship acted in any way outside of its planned operations.
Li has made similar comments in past U.S. FONOPs around the Paracel Islands.
In his statements Thursday, Li said, “The U.S. ignored the rules of the international law, repeatedly stirred up troubles in the South China Sea, exercised navigational hegemony in the name of ‘freedom of navigation,’ seriously undermined China’s sovereignty and security interests, and severely sabotaged the international navigation order in the South China Sea.”
Li added, “We urge the US to stop this kind of provocative action, to strictly manage maritime and aerial military operations and strictly restrain its frontline troops, so as to avoid accidents.”
The U.S. Department of Defense issued a statement Thursday, criticizing Chinese ballistic missile launches near the Paracel Islands.
“Conducting military exercises over disputed territory in the South China Sea is counterproductive to easing tensions and maintaining stability,” the DOD states. “The PRC’s actions, including missile tests, further destabilize the situation in the South China Sea. Such exercises also violate PRC commitments under the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea to avoid activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability, and call into question its motivations with ongoing negotiations for a Code of Conduct between China and ASEAN.”
Despite warning about the missile drills, neither the DOD statement nor the 7th Fleet Statement said the missile drills had any connection to Chinese claims of expelling the USS Mustin from the waters around the Paracel Islands.
Global Times also reported the PLA had not confirmed any missile launches. The Chinese outlet did report, citing unnamed analysts, that Chinese missiles launched during missile drills could mistakenly target unauthorized ships passing through the area and inadvertently hit them.
The U.S. Navy regularly conducts FONOPs around the disputed South China Sea and the 7th Fleet statement said its forces would continue such operations
“U.S. forces operate in the South China Sea on a daily basis, as they have for more than a century,” the 7th Fleet states. “They routinely operate in close coordination with like-minded allies and partners who share our commitment to uphold a free and open international order that promotes security and prosperity. All of our operations are designed to be conducted in accordance with international law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows – regardless of the location of excessive maritime claims and regardless of current events.”