U.S. warship challenges China’s claims in South China Sea

Guided-missile destroyer USS Decatur (DDG 73) operates in the South China Sea as part of the Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) in the South China Sea on October 13, 2016. Picture taken on October 13, 2016.  Courtesy Diana Quinlan/U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS

Guided-missile destroyer USS Decatur (DDG 73) operates in the South China Sea as part of the Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) in the South China Sea on October 13, 2016. Picture taken on October 13, 2016. Courtesy Diana Quinlan/U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS

By Idrees Ali and Matt Spetalnick | WASHINGTON Fri Oct 21, 2016

A U.S. navy destroyer sailed near islands claimed by China in the South China Sea on Friday, drawing a warning from Chinese warships to leave the area.

The U.S. action was the latest attempt to counter what Washington sees as Beijing’s efforts to limit freedom of navigation in the strategic waters, U.S. officials said.

The Chinese Defense Ministry called the move “illegal” and “provocative,” saying that two Chinese warships had warned the U.S. destroyer to leave.

The guided-missile destroyer USS Decatur challenged “excessive maritime claims” near the Paracel Islands, among a string of islets, reefs and shoals over which China has territorial disputes with its neighbors, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The latest U.S. patrol, first reported by Reuters, is expected to anger Beijing and could further escalate tensions over the South China Sea. The destroyer sailed within waters claimed by China, close to but not within the 12-nautical-mile territorial limits of the islands, the officials said.

The Pentagon said the Decatur “conducted this transit in a routine, lawful manner without ship escorts and without incident.” One official said the ship, which sailed near Triton and Woody Islands, was shadowed by three Chinese vessels and that all interactions were safe.

The White House confirmed the Reuters report.

“This operation demonstrated that coastal states may not unlawfully restrict the navigation rights, freedoms and lawful uses of the sea that the United States and all states are entitled to exercise under international law,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said at a news briefing.

It was the fourth challenge that the United States has made to what it considers overreaching maritime claims by China in the South China Sea in the past year, and the first since May.

China, Washington’s main strategic rival in Asia, claims almost the entire South China Sea, through which about $5 trillion worth of trade passes each year. The United States has criticized Beijing’s build-up of military facilities in the sea and expressed concerns they could be used to restrict free movement.

China’s Defense Ministry said it had declared its “baseline” for the Paracel Islands in 1996, something the United States knew. Despite that, the Chinese government said, the United States had sent a ship into Chinese “territorial waters.”

A statement from China’s Foreign Ministry said the U.S. ship did not ask for permission to enter Chinese territorial waters, and had broken both Chinese and international law.

The ministry accused the United States of deliberately creating tensions.

China has a runway on Woody Island, the site of the largest Chinese presence on the Paracels, and has placed surface-to-air missiles there, according to U.S. officials. Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims on the Paracels.

In the last three U.S. freedom-of-navigation operations in the South China Sea within the last year, U.S. warships cruised within 12 nautical miles of islands claimed by Beijing. The actions drew angry responses from China, which has accused the United States of stirring up trouble there.

The latest operation comes just after the volatile president of the Philippines announced, during a visit to China, his “separation” from Washington and realignment with Beijing. The Philippines has been a key ally of the United States and a territorial rival of Beijing in the South China Sea. Rodrigo Duterte took office as Philippine president in June.

Duterte’s announcement on Thursday was a significant turnaround after a tribunal in The Hague ruled that China did not have historic rights to the South China Sea in a case brought by the previous Philippine administration and strongly backed by the United States.

But in Washington a person close to the matter said the latest naval operation was not timed for Duterte’s China visit this week and that planning for the patrol had long been in the works.

U.S. officials have said they will continue such operations despite objections by Beijing.

“The U.S. Navy will continue to conduct routine and lawful operations around the world, including in the South China Sea, in order to protect the rights, freedoms and lawful uses of sea and airspace guaranteed to all. This will not change,” Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson said during a trip to China in July.


Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam all have rival claims in the South China Sea, but Beijing’s is the largest. It argues it can do what it wants on the islands it claims as they have been Chinese since ancient times.

The last U.S. freedom-of-navigation operation in May went within 12 miles of Fiery Cross reef in the Spratly Islands and China scrambled fighter jets in response.

In January, a U.S. destroyer went within 12 miles of Triton Island, and China called the action “irresponsible and extremely dangerous.”

U.S. officials have said the operations will continue despite Beijing’s protests, but the Obama administration has been criticized in Congress for not conducting them more regularly and robustly.

Greg Poling, a South China Sea expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, said the administration was likely to face further criticism after opting for relatively uncontroversial challenges to China in all of its freedom-of-navigation operations in the past year.

“They will have essentially performed the same FONOP, meaning an objection to China’s demand for prior notification, four times in a year,” he said.

“That is not only redundant, but it does nothing to put a spotlight on the other, much more worrying, restrictions China is placing on freedom of navigation.”

China has been placing more serious restrictions on movement, he said, around artificial islands China has built on reefs in the Spratly chain, notably Mischief Reef.

(Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom and Jeff Mason.; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jeffrey Benkoe)

Source: Reuters “U.S. warship challenges China’s claims in South China Sea”

Note: This is Reuters report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.


5 Comments on “U.S. warship challenges China’s claims in South China Sea”

  1. Steve says:

    US is gone with the wind. Actually its quite embarrassing as neighbours can no longer look up to Auntie Sam to contain China. With President Duterte inspired by his ancestral Chinese roots, the US has become the loner of its FONs, easily spooked by the PLAN. If the Japanese navy joins in FONs with the US, it will be sunk as China’s military will not remain idle and a wonderful excuse to reclaim the Diaoyu islands. Only paper cat Australia may sail behind the US bum. As China has stated years ago, there is no container to be contained. Without Philippine alliance, the US pivot into Asia has being shattered.


    • Simon says:

      Even Australia is rolling back it FON in the SCS because East Timor is launching a case in the Hague against them which the Ozzie is now refusing to recognise. Only the hypocrit and loner America is enforcing a ruling from a none UN sanction private court in Netherland interpreting a law from the UN in a case bought by the Phillipines who no longer wish to enact. America is not even treaty bound to UNCLOS yet chose to become the most vocal about enacting on it when it suited them but not wish to respect any of it themselves when it comes to its own territorial claims.

      American military appearance in the SCS alone and unwelcome by anyone makes them look cheap and pathetic with all the posture of an isolated rogue state.


      • Steve says:

        True – US is a doggone lost case…President Duterte’s pivot to China has severely weakened the American alliance, the Japanese of all people are upset which is none of their business. We can see clearly, Abe wants confrontation with US help. In the future, there maybe a Duterte type Japanese politician pivoting towards China. Its a long shot, but can never rule out an anti US Japanese politician. He may even bow and acknowledge Japanese war crimes of WW11 and kick out the US from Japan. The only sticky point for Japan is Nth Korea. Nth Korea I believe will never nuke their Southern brethrens, but Japan. All Japan has to do is apologise, but Japanese people are strange with a superiority complex, refusing to acknowledge what is good for their people and nation.

        Australia cannot be trusted. Rain, Hail or Shine, they will ride the US bum. They will support the US evil empire, a foundation build on genocide. Australia supported the US in Vietnam, Iraq, Libya and Syrian atrocities, All for the wrong reasons. Its not that Australia is avoiding FONs in SCS. They are looking at options with the US. After all, what type of Australian destroyer and frigate can actually intimidate China’s PLAN. Their boats are outdated, its embarrassing. China holds the economic trump card. Its in Australia’s best interest to behave.
        Also, UK will side with the US. The UK Typhoons are now practising flight assimilation with the Japanese F15 and F2 in Japan.


  2. Simon says:

    America Go Home!!!!
    Nobody want you here anymore….


  3. Joseph says:

    And the American warship did not even dare to sail well within 12 Nm from Chinese artificial islands. As usual, they sailed on the outlaying outer islands like a thief with the hope of escaping the grasp of Chinese patrols. In the shameless act of busy body, the American claims they do it on behalf of contesting neighbors. Which neighbor? Even the Phillipines is ordering the American to be gone. Even if some countries have claims over the area, the American does not, and no one invites them, not anymore, which makes it the act of wounded and banished former alpha.
    In a gesture of complete cowardice, the American did not even dare to announce this incursion through their official channel. Only through Reuters, which the White House would ‘confirm’ later on. At least this time Reuters has something credible other than fictions to report, eventhough it is not even originated from the region, but from the far away America. It has been a long time since the American manages to save some money to stage an incursion, this time with only a mere destroyer. No one even know if the USS Decatur is fully loaded and fully crewed, or even fully fueled, considering how fast it left after the incursion. One thing is for certain, we won’t see another American incursion in the near future, at least until they manage to save another sum of money for another incursion.