Less than a week after the United States sent a Navy destroyer through the hotly contested Taiwan Strait between Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China, another U.S. military vessel passed through a disputed archipelago in the South China Sea to “challenge restrictions on innocent passage” imposed by China and other nations in the region.
The USS John McCain on Tuesday went through the Spratly Island chain because “unlawful and sweeping maritime claims” pose a serious threat to freedom of navigation and commerce for all nations, Pentagon officials said.
China, Taiwan and Vietnam each claim sovereignty over sections of the Spratly Islands and require permission or advanced notice from other nations before they can pass through.
U.S. officials say such restrictions on innocent passage violates international law.
“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,” U.S. Navy officials said in a statement.
The latest steps come after the Navy released its new China-focused maritime strategy, “Advantage at Sea,” which says the U.S. will be more assertive with Beijing in day-to-day operations. On Saturday, the U.S.S. Mustin conducted what the Navy called a “routine Taiwan Strait passage” to demonstrate its commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific region.
“U.S. forces operate in the South China Sea on a daily basis, as they have for more than a century,” the Navy said. “The United States will fly, sail and operate whenever international law allows — regardless of the location of excessive maritime claims and regardless of current events.”