From the Navy Times (Oct 8): Navy will challenge Chinese territorial claims in South China Sea
The Navy is preparing to send a surface ship inside the 12-nautical-mile territorial limit China claims for its man-made island chain, an action that could take place within days but awaits final approval from the Obama administration, according to military officials who spoke to Navy Times.
Plans to send a warship through the contested space have been rumored since May, but three Pentagon officials who spoke to Navy Times on background to discuss future operations say Navy officials believe approval of the mission is imminent.
If approved, it would be the first time since 2012 that the U.S. Navy has directly challenged China's claims to the islands' territorial limits.
The land reclamation projects in the vicinity of the Spratly Islands have been the focus of increasing tensions between China and the United States along with its regional allies, including the Philippines, since reports of the land reclamation project began surfacing in 2013. However, the U.S. and other nations have disputed the legitimacy of the islands built by China in what is viewed as an act of regional aggression.
A spokesman for the National Security Council deferred questions regarding the Navy's plans to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, but drew attention to President Obama's remarks before the U.N. General Assembly Sept. 28, where he said the U.S. has "an interest in upholding the basic principles of freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce, and in resolving disputes through international law, not the law of force."
OSD spokesman Cmdr. Bill Urban declined to comment on future operations, but referred to Defense Secretary Ash Carter's comments from Sept. 1, when he said that the "United States will fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows, as we do all around the world."
The news of the pending maneuver comes just a day after Pacific Fleet boss Adm. Scott Swift told a maritime conference in Australia that "some nations" were behaving in a manner inconsistent with international law, a clear reference to the ongoing dispute with China.
"It's my sense that some nations view freedom of the seas as up for grabs, as something that can be taken down and redefined by domestic law or by reinterpreting international law," Swift said, according to a report by Reuters. "Some nations continue to impose superfluous warnings and restrictions on freedom of the seas in their exclusive economic zones and claim territorial water rights that are inconsistent with (the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea). This trend is particularly egregious in contested waters."