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US 7th Fleet carries out a Freedom of Navigation Operation in the South China Sea.

Image Credit: US Navy

As a warning to China over its continued aggression in the South China Sea, on July 12 USS Benfold (DDG 65) carried out a freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea close to the Paracel islands. The Freedom of Navigation operation (FONOP) is usually conducted to demonstrate its right and lawful use of international waters. The US are challenging unlawful restrictions made by China, Taiwan and Vietnam in the Strait baselines enclosing the Paracel islands. All three countries claim sovereignty of the island, and all order foreign vessels advanced notification before passage through the territorial sea close to the island.

This will of course mostly challenge China’s view of where the international waters lie in the South China Sea. China believes that 1.3 million square miles of the sea (roughly 90% of the sea) is their rightful territorial waters, challenging international law and entering into a dispute with other countries that also have a right of part of the territorial waters of the South China Sea. China’s territorial claim did not bode well with countries such as Malaysia, Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam and Taiwan. The US administration is working in full support of the South China Sea countries and have repeatedly warned China about its buildup of bases in reefs in the sea, which China is doing in an attempt to boost their sovereignty rights of the sea.

US warships operate in the South China Sea in a daily basis and have done so for more than a century. All of their operations respected international law with the intention of promoting peace and stability in the region. United States has challenged China’s 1996 declaration of straight baselines encompassing the Paracel islands. According to Article 7 of the Law of Sea Convention, no claimant can draw straight baselines around the Paracel islands in their entirety and hence doing so would be breaking international law. China has established baselines around entire islands in an attempt to claim more international waters,exclusive economic zone, territorial waters and continental shelf.

In light of recent Chinese aggression towards Philippine’s fishing boats, US threatened China that any direct military action on Philippines will allow US to invoke the US-Philippines mutual defense pact. More details to follow.

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