US Navy destroyer cruises through South China Sea on eve of China national day

USS Decatur passes disputed Spratly Islands in freedom of navigation operation

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US Navy Destroyer USS Decatur

US Navy Destroyer USS Decatur (By Wikimedia Commons)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – The U.S. Navy sailed destroyer USS Decatur close to the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea on Sept. 30 in a freedom of navigation operation (FONOP).

The FONOP sailed within 12 nautical miles of Gaven and Johnson reefs through territory claimed by China, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam, on the eve of China’s national day.

The U.S. military says it routinely conducts FONOPs throughout the South China Sea, in a bid to maintain free passage throughout the disputed waters, and amid growing tensions between China and the U.S.

“This FONOP challenged attempts by China, Taiwan and Vietnam to restrict navigation rights around the features they claim,” a U.S. military official told Japan Times.

Another U.S. military told AFP that the U.S.’s FONOPs “are designed in accordance with international law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows."

The most recent U.S. FONOP in the South China Sea occurred in May, when the U.S. Navy sailed close to the Paracel Islands chain. The U.S. military also flew two B-52 bombers over the South China Sea in September, a move described by Beijing as a “provocation.”

A U.S. military official told Japan Times that the B-52 flyover is independent to yesterday’s FONOP.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said in May that the U.S. will begin to take a tougher stance in protecting freedom of sea navigation in the South China Sea. Days later at the Shangri-La Dialogue, Mattis slammed China for weaponizing islands in the region for “the purposes of intimidation and coercion.”

The British navy conducted its own FONOP through the South China Sea, passing close to the Paracel Islands chain on September 3, en route to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.