Washington: A US warship challenged Chinese claims of sovereignty in the South China Sea on Thursday, stating that such claims violate international law and “pose a serious threat to the freedom of the seas.” “On Jan. 20, USS Benfold (DDG 65) asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the vicinity of the Paracel Islands, consistent with international law.
At the conclusion of the operation, USS Benfold exited the excessive claim and continued operations in the South China Sea,” US Navy’s 7th fleet said in a statement.
The statement added that the freedom of navigation operation (“FONOP”) upheld the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law by challenging restrictions imposed by countries including China.
“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, and freedom of economic opportunity for the South China Sea littoral nations,” the statement added.
China, Taiwan, and Vietnam each claim sovereignty over the Paracel Islands. “All three claimants require either permission or advance notification before a military vessel engages in ‘innocent passage’ through the territorial sea.
Under international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention, the ships of all States – including their warships – enjoy the right of innocent passage through the territorial sea.” Separately, the US also challenged China’s 1996 declaration of straight baselines encompassing the Paracel Islands.
“Regardless of which claimant has sovereignty over these features, it is unlawful to draw straight baselines around the Paracel Islands in their entirety. International law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention is both clear and comprehensive regarding the circumstances under which States can depart from ‘normal’ baselines.”
Reacting to US Navy’s operation in the South China Sea, Chinese state media said that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) expelled a US warship that trespassed Chinese territorial waters in the SCS. China reacted sharply to the presence of the US warship in what it claims are its territorial waters.
“The PLA Southern Theater Command organized naval and air forces to track, monitor and drive away the destroyer with warnings,” the Chinese military said in a statement. “What the US has done seriously infringes on China’s sovereignty and security, and is yet another hard evidence that it is pursuing maritime hegemony and militarizing the South China Sea.
Facts fully prove that the US is a ‘risk-maker’ in the South China Sea and the ‘biggest destroyer’ of peace and stability in the South China Sea,” it said. China claims almost all of the South China Sea as its sovereign territory.
Last week, US State Department had released a study on South China Sea claims challenging many of Beijing’s assertions in the strategically important region.