U.S. destroyer in South China Sea violated law, harmed security

Frederick Owens
August 12, 2017

A U.S. Navy destroyer carried out a "freedom of navigation operation" on Thursday, coming within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island built up by China in the South China Sea, U.S. officials told Reuters.

The USS John S McCain destroyer sailed within six nautical miles of Mischief Reef, part of the disputed Spratly Islands south of the Paracel Islands.

Thursday's mission comes as the U.S. seeks greater Chinese involvement on resolving the tension over its neighbor, North Korea's, continuing missile tests, which are perceived in Washington as a serious threat to the U.S. and its regional allies. However, the USA says its patrols are aimed at showing support for free passage to vessels in global waters.

Sailing within those 12 miles is meant to show the U.S. does not recognise territorial claims there.

The building of military and dual-use infrastructure on the three biggest islands in the contested Spratly chain - Mischief, Subi and Fiery Cross reefs - has reached the final stages, with naval, air, radar and defensive facilities largely complete, the report said.

Two other US Navy ships approached China-claimed islands in the South China Sea in July and May.

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"China holds indisputable sovereignty over Nansha Islands and surrounding waters", the defense ministry stated.

"We told them we are a U.S. [ship] conducting routine operations in global waters". On Sunday China scored a coup when ASEAN ministers issued a diluted statement on the dispute and agreed to its terms on talks at the Manila meeting.

"All operations are conducted in accordance with worldwide law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever global law allows".

Philippine marines stationed in a marooned ship on a disputed shoal may have monitored the U.S. Navy operation because they are based near Mischief Reef, which is also claimed by the Philippines, the official said. It is also believed to be rich in natural resources, including oil.

China called it a "serious political and military provocation".

China's foreign ministry said the operation had "violated worldwide and Chinese law and seriously harmed Beijing's sovereignty and security". Its sweeping claims overlap with Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei all ASEAN members as well as Taiwan.

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