The US Navy said that one of its destroyers on Friday sailed close to the Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands, 西沙群島) in the South China Sea, asserting international freedom of navigation rights in the contested waters.
The USS Wayne E. Meyer guided-missile destroyer passed through the area of the Paracels east of Vietnam and South of China’s Hainan Island without requesting permission from Taipei, Beijing or Hanoi, all three of which claim ownership of the archipelago.
“USS Wayne E. Meyer challenged the restrictions on innocent passage imposed by China, Taiwan and Vietnam and also contested China’s claim to straight baselines enclosing the Paracel Islands,” said Commander Reann Mommsen, spokeswoman for the US Seventh Fleet based in Japan.
“With these baselines, China has attempted to claim more internal waters, territorial sea, exclusive economic zone and continental shelf than it is entitled under international law,” Mommsen said.
China has laid claim to nearly all of the South China Sea and has built numerous military outposts on the small islands and atolls of the region, angering other claimants Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.
In the past few months, the US military has stepped up its “freedom of navigation operations” in the region, irking Beijing, but not sparking any direct confrontation.
China has effectively drawn a property line around the whole of the Paracels archipelago to claim the entire territory.
However, the US says that does not accord with international law on archipelagos and territorial seas.
The freedom of navigation operations “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,” Mommsen said.
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