From the Daily Tribune (Aug 13): US asserts right to treat S. China Sea as int’l territory
Upbraided by Beijing after allegedly “undermining” its sovereignty when a US warship sailed near an artificial island in the Spratlys, Washington has asserted its rights to perform freedom of navigation operations (FONOP) where international law allows, including in the South China Sea contested by China and other littoral countries.
“Freedom of navigation operations happen all around the world. They tend to get the most attention when they have been in the South China Sea,” said State Department spokesman Heather Nauert.
She explained that FONOP happens in the waters off-shore of “our major allies, friends, partners all around the world.”
“US forces will operate in the Asia-Pacific region. They do that on a daily basis, including the South China Sea,” she stressed. “The operations are conducted in accordance with international law.”
She also pointed out that this is to demonstrate that the United States will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows.
“It’s true in the South China Sea; it’s true in other places around the world as well,” she stressed.
The USS John S. McCain destroyer sailed within six nautical miles off Mischief Reef, a man-made island built by China but is also claimed by the Philippines.
Earlier, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the government has no objection regarding the presumed innocent passage of sea craft.
“There is, of course, the freedom of navigation. In other words, from our side, we find no objection,” he has said.
But in a press conference, an angry China described the passage as “violation” and an act “undermining” Beijing’s sovereignty in the contested area.
According to China Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang, their side sent naval ships to identify and verify the US warship “according to law and warn it to leave.”
He cited that with “concerted efforts of China and Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries, the situation in the South China Sea has cooled down and de-escalated and continuously taken a positive trend.”
China-Asean Foreign Ministers’ Meeting held in the Philippines last week adopted the Framework of a Code of Conduct (CoC) in the South China Sea but Geng noted that against thisbackdrop, “certain non-regional forces have moved against the general trend and continued to make provocations and troubles under the pretext of ‘freedom of navigation’ with an attempt to disturb the current hard-won sound situation.”
“This has clearly manifested who is exactly the one that does not want to see the sustained stability in the South China Sea, and who serves the biggest factor in the ‘militarization’ of the South China Sea,” he added.
Chinese defense ministry spokesman Wu Qian said the situation in the South China Sea has “stabilized” due to the “joint efforts” of China and neighboring countries but the US operation threatened “peace and stability in the region.”
“The US military’s provocative actions will only encourage the Chinese military to further strengthen the defense capacity building and firmly defend national sovereignty and security,” Qian said.
In the Asean joint communique, foreign ministers have reaffirmed the importance of freedom of navigation.
Washington, represented by State Secretary Rex Tillerson in the Asean meetings, welcomed this reiteration, also citing shared concerns over developments they called “unconducive to regional stability” in the South China Sea, such as land reclamation.
In her earlier statement, Nauert said “Asean was under tremendous pressure, but still held on to its principles.”
The freedom of navigation operation was the third of its kind carried out by the United States since President Donald Trump took office in January.