PLA Navy, Air Force “expels trespassing” US Navy ship in the South China Sea

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) announced that it had deployed naval and air forces to expel an American guided-missile destroyer that had “trespassed” into Chinese territory near the Spratly Islands today, December 22.

PLA Air Force Colonel Tian Kai-jun, spokesperson for the Southern Theater of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army made the announcement on Chinese social media site WeChat this afternoon.

Tian wrote that the USS John S. McCain had trespassed into waters adjacent to China’s Nansha Islands and reefs without the permission of the Chinese government.

Tian rebuked the US for “seriously infringing upon China’s sovereignty and security, and severely undermining the peace and stability of the South China Sea.”

“The Southern Theater Command has organized naval and air forces to warn and drive them away,” Tian said.

The US Navy responded that the USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) had conducted a Freedom of Navigation Operation (“FONOP”), upholding the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law.

U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet press release

“All interactions with foreign military forces were consistent with international norms and did not impact the operation.

Unlawful and sweeping maritime claims in the South China Sea pose a serious threat to the freedom of the seas, including the freedoms of navigation and overflight, free trade and unimpeded commerce, and freedom of economic opportunity for South China Sea littoral nations.

The United States challenges excessive maritime claims around the world regardless of the identity of the claimant. The international law of the sea as reflected in the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention provides for certain rights and freedoms and other lawful uses of the sea to all nations. The international community has an enduring role in preserving the freedom of the seas, which is critical to global security, stability, and prosperity.

The United States upholds freedom of navigation as a principle. As long as some countries continue to assert maritime claims that are inconsistent with international law as reflected in the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention and that purport to restrict unlawfully the rights and freedoms guaranteed to all States, the United States will continue to defend those rights and freedoms. No member of the international community should be intimidated or coerced into giving up their rights and freedoms.

China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei, and the Philippines each claim sovereignty over some or all of the Spratly Islands. China, Vietnam, and Taiwan require either permission or advance notification before a foreign military vessel engages in “innocent passage” through the territorial sea. Under international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention, the ships of all States –including their warships –enjoy the right of innocent passage through the territorial sea. The unilateral imposition of any authorization or advance-notification requirement for innocent passage is not permitted by international law, so the United States challenged these requirements. By engaging in innocent passage without giving prior notification to or asking permission from any of the claimants, the United States challenged the unlawful restrictions imposed by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam. The United States demonstrated that innocent passage may not be subject to such restrictions.

U.S. forces operate in the South China Sea on a daily basis, as they have for more than a century. They routinely operate in close coordination with like-minded allies and partners who share our commitment to uphold a free and open international order that promotes security and prosperity. All of our operations are designed to be conducted in accordance with international law and 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.”

Cover picture: Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Markus Castaneda

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