U.S. calls its warship’s presence in contested reef innocent
Sheetal Sukhija - Sunday 21st January, 2018
The U.S. Navy warship sailed close to a contested reef west of the Philippines
An angry China accused the U.S. of trespassing in its territorial waters
The incident comes two days after Mattis unveiled a new defence strategy calling China its biggest threat
BEIJING, China - A couple of days after the U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis unveiled a new Pentagon strategy calling China and Russia the biggest threats to the U.S., Beijing expressed its fury at an incident on Saturday.
China’s Foreign Ministry has expressed anger after a U.S. Navy warship sailed close to a contested reef west of the Philippines this week.
On Saturday, China issued a statement accusing the U.S. of trespassing in its territorial waters, on which Beijing laid claim over five years back.
Lu Kang, the spokesman of the Chinese Foreign Ministry expressed dissatisfaction with the U.S. action and said that China would take “necessary measures to firmly safeguard its sovereignty.”
Even the Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Wu Qian said a Chinese missile frigate moved to identify and verify the U.S. vessel and warned it to leave the area.
Qian said, “We hope that the U.S. respects China’s sovereignty, respects the efforts by regional countries and do not make trouble out of nothing.”
The incident reportedly took place on Wednesday after Mattis said the U.S. military advantage over Beijing and Moscow is “eroding.”
However, responding to the accusations, a U.S. official confirmed the operation was merely “innocent passage” when the USS Hopper, a guided-missile destroyer, sailed within 12 nautical miles of the uninhabited reef, Scarborough Shoal.
According to experts, 12 nautical miles from land is the internationally recognized territorial limit for all nations.
However, the international community doesn’t recognize many claims by China in the South China Sea, including its claim to the Scarborough Shoal.
The U.S., therefore, demonstrates its displeasure with China by conducting “freedom of navigation” operations with Navy warships.
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nicole Schwegman reiterated in a statement on Saturday, "The United States conducts routine and regular FONOPs (Freedom of Navigation Operations), as we have done in the past and will continue to do so in the future.”
He added, “We have a comprehensive FONOP program under which U.S. forces challenge excessive maritime claims across the globe to demonstrate our commitment to uphold the rights, freedoms and lawful uses of the sea and airspace guaranteed to all nations under international law. FONOPs are not about any one country, nor are they about making political statements. FONOPS are designed to comply with international law and not threaten the lawful security interest of coastal States."
The international community is especially irked with China, which claims virtually the entire South China Sea since it has carried out extensive land reclamation work on many of the islands and reefs it claims.
It has equipped some of these islands and reefs with airstrips and military installations.
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