After talking tough vs China, US conducts freedom of navigation operation in Spratlys
MANILA, Philippines—After branding China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea as “completely unlawful,” the United States conducted freedom of navigation operation near the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea in a direct challenge to Beijing.
Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Ralph Johnson (DDG-114) operated in the Spratly Islands on Tuesday (July 14), the US Pacific Fleet said in a statement.
“This freedom of navigation operation upheld the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea, recognized in international law, by challenging restrictions on innocent passage imposed by China, Vietnam, and Taiwan,” it said.
The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Ralph Johnson – DDG 114 steams near the Spratly Islands in the…
Most of the Philippine claims in the West Philippine Sea are located in the Spratly Islands.
The latest publicized operation came after the US announced its policy shift in the South China Sea.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asserted that “Beijing’s claims to offshore resources across most of the South China Sea are completely unlawful, as is its campaign of bullying to control them.”
“The world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire,” Pompeo said in a statement early on Tuesday (July 14) Manila time.
“America stands with our Southeast Asian allies and partners in protecting their sovereign rights to offshore resources, consistent with their rights and obligations under international law,” added Pompeo.
China has laid claim to nearly the entire South China Sea, including waters in the exclusive economic zones of the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam.
Pompeo’s statement was later expanded by US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific David Stilwell at an online forum hosted by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
He described China’s actions in the South China Sea as “gangster tactics.”
“The PRC gambit works like this: By aggressively deploying military forces, maritime militia, state-directed oil rigs and the like, Beijing tries to drive up risk for energy firms that want to operate in the South China Sea, in hopes of pushing out foreign competition,” Stilwell said, using the initials for People’s Republic of China (PRC).
“Once accomplished, Beijing pushes other states to accept ‘joint development’ with its own state-owned firms, saying ‘if you want to develop those resources off your coast, your only option is to do so with us,’” he added.
Stillwell also said “the United States rejects any PRC claim to waters beyond a 12 nautical mile territorial sea derived from islands it claims in the Spratly Islands.”
He said China cannot legally claim the James Shoal near Malaysia, the waters surrounding Vanguard Bank (off Vietnam), Luconia Shoals (off Malaysia), waters in Brunei’s EEZ and Natuna Besar (off Indonesia).
It does not have a legal claim to Panganiban (Mischief) Reef or Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal, which are both under Philippines jurisdiction.
The US also expressed support to the 2016 South China Sea ruling at The Hague, which China refused to recognize and accept.
The decision, which was largely favorable to Manila, invalidated Beijing’s nine-dash line claims and declared it had violated the Philippines’ sovereign right to fish and explore resources in the West Philippine Sea, waters within the country’s 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea.
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