Asia - Pacific

As China’s 'encirclement' of Taiwan continues, US warship sails through South China Sea

Washington says it ‘challenges excessive maritime claims regardless of the identity of the claimant’

Riyaz ul Khaliq  | 10.04.2023 - Update : 11.04.2023
As China’s 'encirclement' of Taiwan continues, US warship sails through South China Sea

ISTANBUL

China on Monday held joint flights of jets and voyages of naval frigates after a US warship sailed through the disputed South China Sea amid Beijing’s “encirclement” of Taiwan.

Southern Theater Command of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) said it “organized naval and air forces to track and monitor” the US Navy destroyer USS Milius when it “illegally trespassed into waters near China's Meiji Reef in the Nansha Islands in the South China Sea on Monday.”

Beijing’s statement came after the 7th Fleet of the US military in Asia-Pacific deployed its Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Milius (DDG 69) in the South China Sea on Monday.

The fleet said it “asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the South China Sea near the Spratly Islands, consistent with international law.”

“At the conclusion of the operation, USS Milius exited the excessive claim area and continued operations in the South China Sea.

“The United States engaged in ‘normal operations’ within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef. Under customary international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention, features like Mischief Reef that are submerged at high tide in their naturally formed state are not entitled to a territorial sea,” the statement said.

The voyage of the US warship comes as China’s three-day “military sword” exercises around Taiwan continued on Monday.

The PLA Navy Shandong aircraft carrier group was in waters to the east of Taiwan island from where Chinese sorties, including those of J-15 carrier-borne fighter jets, equipped with live missiles, took off and landed, according to Chinese daily Global Times.

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said its air defense units “remain on high alert for contingencies, steadfastly maintaining their posts 24/7, showing that we can and we will defend our skies.”

Earlier today, Taiwan detected 70 PLA aircraft and 11 PLA naval vessels around the island nation, 35 of which crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait and entered Taiwan’s southwest and southeast air defense identification zone (ADIZ).

“And we will never give up our beliefs,” Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said on Twitter.

Beijing does neither recognize the median line nor the ADIZ.

China launched mass military drills after US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy hosted Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen for a meeting in California last week, after Tsai’s 10-day trip to Central America.

‘Sweeping maritime claims’

Without naming China, the US 7th Fleet said: “The land reclamation efforts, installations, and structures built on Mischief Reef do not change this characterization under international law. By engaging in normal operations within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef, the United States demonstrated that vessels can lawfully exercise high-seas freedoms in those areas.”

The mineral-rich warm waters of the South China Sea have long been the subject of contention between China and some regional countries, with the US siding with countries opposing China’s claims.

Washington has frequently sailed its warships and flown its fighter jets over the warm waters of the South China Sea under the so-called “freedom of navigation,” which Beijing has repeatedly denounced as a violation of its territorial integrity.

China’s claims are based on its so-called “nine-dash line,” which are purple dashes on official Chinese maps that represent Beijing's historical claims to the sea.

“Unlawful and sweeping maritime claims in the South China Sea pose a serious threat to the freedom of the seas, including the freedoms of navigation and overflight, free trade and unimpeded commerce, and freedom of economic opportunity for South China Sea littoral nations,” the 7th Fleet said.

It added: “The United States challenges excessive maritime claims around the world regardless of the identity of the claimant.”

“(The) US forces operate in the South China Sea on a daily basis, as they have for more than a century.”

In 2016, the Philippines won a case at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague that invalidated China's South China Sea expansion claims.

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