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US Navy Conducts South China Sea ‘Freedom of Navigation’ Operation

The US Navy on Monday conducted a “freedom of navigation” operation in the vicinity of the Paracel Islands, a disputed archipelago in the South China Sea. The operation aims to assert navigational freedom in maritime territory claimed by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam.

The Arleigh Burke guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold (DDG 65) sailed through the disputed waterway during routine operations.

The US has been challenging excessive maritime claims around the world and underscored the important role the international community has in preserving the freedom of the sea.

“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 navy explained.

Right to Innocent Passage

Under the Law of the Sea Convention, ships of all countries, whether coastal or land-locked, enjoy the right of innocent passage through the maritime territory on the condition that they ask permission or give advance notice to the three claimants.

However, the US has been challenging such “unlawful” restrictions imposed by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam by continuing to pass through the territory without giving prior notice.

The US disputes China’s 1996 declaration of straight baselines encompassing the Paracel Islands, which has led the nation to claim more territorial sea as its “exclusive economic zone.”

“By conducting this operation, the United States demonstrated that these waters are beyond what China can lawfully claim as its territorial sea, and that China’s claimed straight baselines around the Paracel Islands are inconsistent with international law,” the navy stated.

China Responds

Following the naval operation, the Chinese military accused the US of trespassing into Chinese territorial waters.

Senior Colonel Tian Junli said that his country’s military “drove away” the US warship, emphasizing that its forces are always on high alert to safeguard China’s sovereignty in the South China Sea.

He also told government-controlled Global Times that the activity was not authorized by the Chinese government, and he urged the US “to stop these kinds of provocations and strictly manage its maritime and aerial military activities, or it will be the US that bears any consequences.”

Other US Maritime Activities

Aside from initiating operations in the South China Sea, the US Navy participated in a joint interoperability exercise in the Gulf of Aden.

The naval exercise was designed to enhance the maritime interoperability of UK, Dutch, and the US forces, demonstrating naval integration through a series of training scenarios.

“Our team was proud to operate alongside the UK Carrier Strike Group during this unique opportunity to hone the full scope of our mutual capabilities,” Ronald Reagan CSG Commander, Rear Adm. Will Pennington, said. “By operating together at sea, we deepen our coalition partnerships and extend our global reach throughout the region’s critical waterways.”

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