The Navy is dismissing Chinese claims that it had “driven away” a U.S. warship operating near a set of disputed islands in the South China Sea, the latest development in a tense region where such international standoffs are becoming increasingly frequent.
On Wednesday, the Navy said the USS Benfold, an Arleigh Burke-class, guided-missile destroyer conducted a Freedom of Navigation Operation, known as a FONOP, in accordance with international law and within international waters.
“The operation reflects our commitment to uphold freedom of navigation and lawful use of the sea as a principle,” according to a statement released by the 7th Fleet. “The United States is defending every nation’s right to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, as USS Benfold did here.”
The Navy said the Benfold was sailing near the Paracel Islands consistent with international law to challenge Beijing’s “excessive” claims over the region and left the area at the conclusion of its mission.
“The PLA Southern Theater Command’s statement is the latest in a long string of [the People’s Republic of China] actions to misrepresent lawful U.S. maritime operations,” the Navy said, referring to the People’s Liberation Army, China’s military. “The [People’s Republic of China’s] behavior stands in contrast to the United States’ adherence to international law and our vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific region.”
China, Taiwan and Vietnam each claim sovereignty over the Paracel Islands and demand permission or advance notification before a warship passes through the territorial sea. The U.S. contends the requirement is illegal under international law.
“The ships of all states, including their warships, enjoy the right of innocent passage through the territorial sea,” the Navy said.