KOMPAS.com - A US warship sailed near a chain of islands Monday, April 10, claimed by China, the Philippines, as well as other nations and Taiwan, while China held its third day of military exercises around self-governed Taiwan.
The US Navy said the guided-missile destroyer USS Milius conducted a freedom of navigation operation near Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands, a group of dozens of islands between Vietnam and the Philippines, to uphold the “lawful uses of the sea.”
“USS Milius demonstrated that Mischief Reef, a low-tide elevation in it its natural state, is not entitled to a territorial sea under international law,” the Navy said.
The Navy routinely sails near the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea to protest what it calls China’s “excessive maritime claims.”
Also read: China, ASEAN Chair Indonesia to Accelerate Discussion on Code for South China Sea
China has created thousands of hectares of artificial islands atop reefs in the Spratlys and claimed Monday that the United States was “illegally trespassing.”
Beijing has claimed every feature in the South China Sea to restrict navigation and stop the lawful commercial activity of vessels from the Philippines and Vietnam. China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam all claim the Spratlys as part of their territory.
“The United States upholds freedom of navigation for all nations as a principle. As long as some countries continue to claim and assert limits on rights that exceed their authority under international law, the United States will continue to defend the rights and freedoms of the sea guaranteed to all. No member of the international community should be intimidated or coerced into giving up their rights and freedoms,” the Navy said in a statement.
The operation occurred as China sent nearly a dozen warships and 70 fighter jets toward Taiwan on Monday in a third day of military drills since Taiwan’s president met with Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy in Los Angeles last week.
Taiwan’s government said it responded to China’s moves by readying its navy and land-based missile defenses.
Also read: US Holds Drills in South China Sea Amid Tensions With China
China’s foreign ministry has sharply criticized meetings between US and Taiwanese officials. The Chinese Communist Party has said it wants to gain control of Taiwan, a democratic island, by 2027 and is prepared to use force, if necessary.
The Pentagon’s assistant to the secretary of defense for public affairs, Chris Meager, told reporters Monday that Beijing should not turn the Taiwanese leader’s visit to California into a “pretext to overreact.”
He said the US continues to keep open communication channels with the People’s Republic of China but so far, Beijing has declined requests for engagement with both Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley.
The USS Nimitz Carrier Strike Group and a Marine Amphibious Ready Group are currently in the region, and Meagher said they will continue to conduct routine operations there.
“We will not be deterred from operating safely and responsibly in the seas and skies of the western Pacific, consistent with international law,” he said Monday.
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