On Feb. 5 (local time) USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the vicinity of the Paracel Islands, consistent with international law U.S. Navy announced in a statement.
This freedom of navigation operation (“FONOP”) upheld the rights, freedoms and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law by challenging the unlawful restrictions on innocent passage imposed by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam and also by challenging China’s claim to straight baselines enclosing the Paracel Islands.
China claims that the passage of the ship as a violation of its rights. The following statement was made by the Ministry of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China, on Feb. 5.
“On February 5, the US guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain trespassed into the waters adjacent to China’s Xisha Islands without Chinese Government’s permission, and the naval and aerial forces of the Chinese PLA Southern Theater Command conducted whole-process tracking and monitoring on the US destroyer and warned it off,” said Air Force Senior Colonel Tian Junli, Spokesperson for the PLA Southern Theater Command, in a written statement on Friday.
The spokesperson pointed out that the US move is a repeat of its old trick to manipulate the cross-Strait situation in mixed ways, which has seriously violated China’s sovereignty and security, gravely undermined regional peace and stability, and deliberately disrupted the good atmosphere of peace, friendship and cooperation in the South China Sea.
Snr. Col. Tian Junli stressed that China has indisputable sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and their adjacent waters, and the troops of the PLA Southern Theater Command will always stay on high alert, firmly perform their duties and missions to safeguard China’s sovereignty and security and protect peace and stability in the South China Sea.”
The United States upholds freedom of navigation as a principle. As long as some countries continue to assert maritime claims that are inconsistent with international law as reflected in the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention and that purport to restrict unlawfully the rights and freedoms guaranteed to all States, the United States will continue to defend those rights and freedoms. No member of the international community should be intimidated or coerced into giving up their rights and freedoms.
China, Taiwan, and Vietnam each claim sovereignty over the Paracel Islands. All three claimants require either permission or advance notification before a military vessel or warship engages in “innocent passage” through the territorial sea. Under international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention, the ships of all States –including their warships –enjoy the right of innocent passage through the territorial sea. The unilateral imposition of any authorization or advance-notification requirement for innocent passage is not permitted by international law. By engaging in innocent passage without giving prior notification to or asking permission from any of the claimants, the United States challenged these unlawful restrictions imposed by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam. The United States demonstrated that innocent passage may not be subject to such restrictions.
The United States also challenged China’s 1996 declaration of straight baselines encompassing the Paracel Islands. Regardless of which claimant has sovereignty over the islands in the Paracel Islands, straight baselines cannot lawfully be drawn around the Paracel Islands in their entirety. International law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention is both clear and comprehensive regarding the circumstances under which States can depart from “normal” baselines. Straight baselines cannot be lawfully drawn in the Paracels under the international law of the sea as reflected in Article 7 of the Law of the Sea Convention. Furthermore, international law does not permit continental States, like China, to establish baselines around entire dispersed island groups. 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. By conducting this operation, the United States demonstrated that these waters are beyond what China can lawfully claim as its territorial sea, and that China’s claimed straight baselines around the Paracel Islands are inconsistent with international law.
U.S. forces operate in the South China Sea on a daily basis, as they have for more than a century. They routinely operate in close coordination with like-minded allies and partners who share our commitment to uphold a free and open international order that promotes security and prosperity. All of our operations are designed to be conducted in accordance with international law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows –regardless of the location of excessive maritime claims and regardless of current events.