If the U.S. Warship switched on its radar or launched a boat or a helicopter, it would up the challenge to China since these are not permissible in a territorial sea under international law. Without these actions, the meaning of this challenge amounts to only an “innocent passage” which only goes to reinforced rather than challenge China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.
For the first time since U.S. President Donald Trump took the oath of office, the United States has taken a bolder stance in countering China’s aggressive assertions in the South China Sea.
U.S. Navy warship, USS Dewey, sailed within 12 nautical miles of the Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands, built by China in the South China Sea, said U.S. officials on the condition of anonymity.
With this act, the U.S. is asserting the freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea as it pushes Beijing to rein the North Korean missile program.
Beijing is North Korea’s only ally in the world.
In 2016, an international arbitration court in The Hague struck down China’s claim over the islands. As per U.N conventions, territorial waters are generally defined as extending at most 12 nautical miles from a state’s coastline.
The warship’s patrolling of the international waters marks Washington’s latest attempt to counter Beijing’s efforts to limit the freedom of navigation in the strategic waters.
Last month, Admiral Harry Harris, a top U.S. commander from the Asia-Pacific region had stated, the United States will carry out freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea in the near future, without offering any details.
The U.S. military has a long established tradition of carrying out such operations throughout the world, including in areas claimed by its allies. Such operations are separate from political considerations.
“We operate in the Asia-Pacific region on a daily basis, including in the South China Sea. We operate in accordance with international law,” said Captain Jeff Davis, the Pentagon’s spokesman in a statement.
As per Greg Poling, a U.S. based South China Sea expert from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, this was the first operation conducted by the United States close to an artificial feature built by China and is thus not entitled to a territorial sea under international law.
Previous freedom of navigation operations have gone within 12 nautical miles of Subi and Fiery Cross reefs, however both of those features are entitled to a territorial sea.