Home Asia Pacific FONOP: US destroyer sails past China’s Spratly Island artificial reef

FONOP: US destroyer sails past China’s Spratly Island artificial reef

USS John S. McCain Spratly Islands FONOP
US Navy photo of USS John S. McCain in the South China Sea on December 22.

US Navy destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) challenged China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea on Tuesday, sailing past the Spratly Islands archipelago where China is building artificial islands to expand its presence.

“This freedom of navigation operation (“FONOP”) upheld the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law by challenging restrictions on innocent passage imposed by China, Vietnam, and Taiwan,” the navy said.

Just before it sent the destroyer on the freedom of navigation operation, the navy publicized the operation of a guided missile submarine in the Persian Gulf, in a clear signal to Iran.

Announcing the destroyer FONOP, the service said that 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.

China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei, and the Philippines each claim sovereignty over some or all of the Spratly Islands. China, Vietnam, and Taiwan require either permission or advance notification before a foreign military vessel engages in “innocent passage” through the territorial sea.

Under international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention, the ships of all States –including their warships –enjoy the right of innocent passage through the territorial sea. The unilateral imposition of any authorization or advance-notification requirement for innocent passage is not permitted by international law, so the United States challenged these requirements.

By engaging in innocent passage without giving prior notification to or asking permission from any of the claimants, the United States challenged the unlawful restrictions imposed by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam. The United States demonstrated that innocent passage may not be subject to such restrictions.

The United States challenges excessive maritime claims around the world regardless of the identity of the claimant.

Just last month, the same destroyer – USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) – challenged Russia’s maritime claims in the Peter the Great Bay in the Sea of Japan.