Home Americas US destroyer challenges South China Sea claims with Spratly Islands FONOP

US destroyer challenges South China Sea claims with Spratly Islands FONOP

USS Russel
USS Russell (DDG 59) in South China Sea on February 17, 2021. Photo: US Navy

In the second freedom of navigation operation carried out by the US Navy under US president Joe Biden, destroyer USS Russell (DDG 59) asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the Spratly Islands.

The freedom of navigation operation (FONOP), announced by the navy on February 17, challenged unlawful restrictions on innocent passage imposed by China, Vietnam and Taiwan.

It follows a FONOP carried out by USS John S. McCain earlier this month, which “asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the vicinity of the Paracel Islands.” The same destroyer conducted several such operations late last year.

“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,” a US 7th Fleet statement read.

The United States challenges excessive maritime claims around the world under the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention which provides for certain rights and freedoms and other lawful uses of the sea to all 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 navy says.

By engaging in “innocent passage,” as the operation is referred to by the US Navy, without giving prior notification to or asking permission from any of the claimants, the United States challenged these unlawful restrictions imposed by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam.