One day after sailing through the Taiwan Strait, the guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain conducted a freedom of navigation operation near the disputed Paracel Islands while shadowed by Chinese warships.
All interactions were safe and professional, officials told Fox News. U.S. forces operate in the South China Sea on a daily basis, as they have for more than a century.
This is the first freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea since President Biden took office.
“Unlawful and sweeping maritime claims in the South China Sea pose a serious threat to the freedom of the sea, including freedoms of navigation and overflight, free trade and unimpeded commerce and freedom of economic opportunity for South China sea littoral nations,” 7th Fleet spokesperson Lt. Joe Keiley said in a statement. “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 purports to restrict unlawfully the rights and freedoms guaranteed to all States, the United States will continue to defend those rights and freedoms,” Keiley added.
Keiley noted that the Paracel Islands remain a fiercely-contested area, with China, Taiwan and Vietnam each claiming sovereignty. All three claimants require permission or advanced notice before an “innocent passage” through the sea.
Passing through the area without any prior notification or permission stands as a challenge to the “unlawful restrictions” imposed by each country.
The journey doesn’t pass without notice, though. Beijing has long been irked by the U.S. Navy’s Taiwan Strait transits and freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea.
Chinese warships had tailed McCain through the Taiwan Strait on Thursday during a “routine operation” that was done “in accordance with international law.” The McCain previously passed through the Tawain Strait on New Year’s Eve.
Foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin on Thursday said Beijing is closely watching the movements of the U.S. Navy amid the warship’s operation, according to a report from the South China Morning Post.
“China will continue to maintain a high level of alert at all times, respond to all threats and provocations at all times, and resolutely defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Wenbin said. “It is hoped that the United States will play a constructive role in regional peace and stability, not the other way around.”