The USS Benfold, a guided-missile destroyer, has sailed near the disputed Paracel islands. The operation challenged China, Taiwan, and Vietnam, which also claim these islands.
The US regularly conducts what it calls “freedom of navigation” exercises in the South China Sea, challenging China’s sweeping control over international waters. This is the third such operation undertaken by it this year.
The exercise drew a sharp reaction from Beijing, which termed the exercise a security threat to China and a severe violation of China’s sovereignty by illegally entering its waters. A statement from PLA’s Southern theatre command said air and sea forces were organized and the USA’s destroyer was followed, warned, and driven away from its territorial waters. The action again shows the US is nothing but the destroyer of regional peace and a security threat in the South China Sea, it added.
The South China Sea Dispute
The South China Sea has been a sticking point in US-China relations for years. The US Navy visits China-claimed areas of the South China Sea. The sea has huge oil and natural gas reserves, and 1/3 of global maritime trade passes through this region. China’s dominance in this region would disrupt trade and make it a lone resource exploiter.
The US Navy’s 7th Fleet said the exercises were important because of “innocent passage” vessels. They are also required to give prior notice and obtain permission from the PRC, Taiwan, and Vietnam governments.
The Paracel Islands are a group of 130 coral islands in the South China Sea. The distance between the archipelagos of China and Vietnam is almost equal, and both countries claim control over them. There’s no indigenous population on these islands. The only people living there are Chinese military officers.
UNCLOS governs states’ jurisdiction of maritime areas and maritime activities. The US hasn’t ratified this convention, but China has. Chinese officials have mocked the US for not ratifying the convention and for lecturing other countries on maritime law.
The US navy said China is running a false agenda and misinterpreting the US’s lawful maritime operations to exert illegitimate control over the region.
In recent years, the PRC has indulged in constructing artificial islands in the South China Sea, which it claims almost entirely. This has raised concerns all around the world, especially in the South-Asian region regarding China’s attention.
The operation followed the sixth anniversary of the International Tribunal ruling that rejected China’s “historic rights” over the South China Sea. US officials say our navy will protect every country’s right to fly, sail, and operate in international waters without “illegal restrictions.”