US warship sails near island claimed by China in South China Sea
Reuters in Washington
Saturday 30 January 2016 10.36 EST Last modified on Saturday 30 January 2016 14.46 EST
A US navy destroyer sailed within 12 nautical miles of an island claimed by China and two other states in the South China Sea on Saturday, in an effort to counter efforts to limit freedom of navigation, the Pentagon said.
China claims most of the South China Sea, through which more than $5tn of world trade is shipped every year. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan have rival claims.
Pentagon spokesman Capt Jeff Davis said no ships from China’s military were in the vicinity of the guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur when it passed near Triton Island in the Paracel Islands.
“This operation challenged attempts by the three claimants – China, Taiwan and Vietnam – to restrict navigation rights and freedoms,” Davis said, reflecting the US position that the crucial sea lane should be treated as international waters.
The US navy conducted a similar exercise in October in which the guided-missile destroyer Lassen sailed close to one of China’s manmade islands, drawing a rebuke from Beijing.
China’s foreign minister warns against ‘stoking the tensions’ in the area in December.
Davis said the latest operation sought to challenge policies that require prior permission or notification of transit within territorial seas. He said the US took no position on competing sovereignty claims to naturally formed land features in the South China Sea.
“No claimants were notified prior to the transit, which is consistent with our normal process and international law,” Davis said.
The Chinese foreign ministry responded on Saturday evening with a statement on its website condemning the action.
“The American warship has violated relevant Chinese laws by entering Chinese territorial waters without prior permission, and the Chinese side has taken relevant measures including monitoring and admonishments,” it said.
The operation followed calls in Congress for the Obama administration to follow up on the October operation.
This month, John McCain, the chair of the Senate armed services committee, criticized Obama for delaying further freedom of navigation patrols.
He said that allowed China to continue to pursue its territorial ambitions in the region, including by landing a plane on a manmade island in the Spratly Islands archipelago.