The US Navy destroyer USS John S. McCain challenged China’s claims in the South China Sea on Friday.
The move, which frustrated Beijing, followed a Taiwan Strait transit by the McCain on Thursday.
President Biden said on Thursday the US will confront China’s “coercive” and “aggressive” actions.
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A US warship sailed near Chinese-controlled islands in the South China Sea on Friday, challenging Beijing’s sweeping territorial claims for the first time under the new Biden administration.
The US Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain sailed near the disputed Paracel Islands during a routine freedom-of-navigation operation (FONOP) to “assert navigational rights and freedoms,” 7th Fleet spokesman Lt. Joe Keiley said in a statement Friday.
The Paracels are controlled by China, which has built military outposts on the islands to reinforce its contested sovereignty claims. The islands are also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam.
Each of the three claimant parties has, 7th Fleet said, imposed “unlawful restrictions on innocent passage” by requiring peaceful foreign military vessels to provide advance notice and seek permission before sailing through the territorial waters.
In addition to pressing the three countries on these restrictions, Friday’s operation also specifically challenged China’s claim to straight baselines enclosing the Paracels.
“With these baselines, China has attempted to claim more internal waters, territorial sea, exclusive economic zone, and continental shelf than it is entitled to under international law,” Keiley said.
He explained that “unlawful and sweeping maritime claims in the South China Sea pose a serious threat to the freedom of the sea, including freedoms of navigation and overflight, free trade and unimpeded commerce, and freedom of economic opportunity for South China Sea littoral nations.”
China’s military expressed frustration with the FONOP and said that naval and air assets were deployed to drive away the US destroyer, Reuters reported.
The McCain’s activities near the Paracels come just one day after the warship sailed through the Taiwan Strait, an international waterway where China unlawfully expects foreign ships to seek permission before transiting the area.
By transiting the Taiwan Strait, the warship demonstrated “the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” 7th Fleet said in a statement, adding that the “United States military will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows.”
The routine transits, like the FONOPs, are conducted in accordance with international law, yet China bristles at the presence of US military assets near what it perceives as sensitive national interests.
“China will continue to stay on high alert and is ready to respond to all threats and provocations at any time, and will resolutely safeguard its national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Wang Wenbin said in response Thursday.
“We hope the US side will play a constructive role for regional peace and stability, rather than the opposite,” he added.
Just days into the new Biden administration, the Chinese military sent fighters and bombers flying past Taiwan in a show of force. The military aircraft then conducted a simulated attack run on a US Navy aircraft carrier in the South China Sea.
The US State Department condemned China’s economic, diplomatic, and military pressure campaign against Taiwan, and the US military criticized China’s “aggressive and destabilizing” behavior.
President Joe Biden signaled in a foreign policy address on Thursday that confrontation is expected to continue as the US pushes back on what it considers malign Chinese activity.
The US will “take on directly the challenges posed by our prosperity, security, and democratic values by our most serious competitor, China,” Biden said.
“We’ll confront China’s economic abuses; counter its aggressive, coercive action; to push back on China’s attack on human rights, intellectual property, and global governance,” he added.
The president said that the US remains “ready to work with Beijing when it’s in America’s interest to do so.”
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