US warship sails near man-made islet in South China Sea, flouting new Chinese law

The US Navy sailed a warship on Wednesday near a Chinese-controlled island in the disputed South China Sea for the first time since Beijing began implementing a law requiring foreign ships to give notice before entering the waters it claims.

The guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold “has engaged in” normal operations “within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef” in the Spratly Range of the Strategic Waterway, the US Navy’s 7th Fleet said in a statement. communicated.

The “Freedom of Navigation Operation” (FONOP) near the islet, which is also claimed by Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines, was the fourth known operation carried out by the United States under the administration of President Joe Biden .

The Chinese military blasted the latest operation as the latest evidence of the US “militarization of the South China Sea”, adding that it had followed the ship and warned him.

“More and more facts have proven that the United States is the greatest risk and peace breaker for stability and peace in the region,” said Senior Colonel Tian Junli, spokesman for Southern Theater Command.

Later, in a separate statement, the 7th Fleet called China’s qualification of the mission “bogus”.

The “Chinese declaration is the latest in a long series of actions by the PRC aimed at distorting lawful US maritime operations and asserting its excessive and illegitimate maritime claims to the detriment of its South Asian neighbors. Is in the South China Sea, ”he said, using the acronym for China’s Official Name, the People’s Republic of China.

China’s behavior, he added, “contrasts with the United States’ adherence to international law and our vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region.”

The guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold is conducting operations in the South China Sea on Wednesday. | AMERICAN NAVY

Beijing claims about 90% of the South China Sea, through which billions of dollars in trade pass each year, despite overlapping claims from others in the region, including Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Brunei. . He carried out a massive land reclamation project to essentially build and militarize a number of islands in the waters despite protests from other claimants as well as from the United States and Japan.

Washington and Tokyo fear that Chinese-held outposts, some with military-grade airfields and advanced weapons, could be used to restrict free movement in an area that includes vital sea lanes.

China implemented a revised law on Sept. 1 that allows its maritime security agency, which is part of the Ministry of Transport, to order foreign ships to leave what the nation claims to be its territorial waters if it deems theirs. presence as a security threat.

In February, China enforced another controversial law that allows its coast guard to use weapons when foreign vessels involved in illegal activities in waters claimed by China fail to obey orders.

In another signal that the United States was flouting the new Chinese law, the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and its strike group were also in the South China Sea for training, including maritime strike exercises.

Mischief Reef – the largest of Beijing’s recovered and fortified islets in the South China Sea – is home to a 2,700-meter military-grade airfield and houses anti-aircraft weapons and a CIWS missile defense system.

But the 7th Fleet said that under international law, features like the Mischief Reef that are submerged at high tide in their natural state are not entitled to a territorial sea.

“The reclamation efforts of land, facilities and structures built on Mischief Reef do not change this characterization under international law,” he said.

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