South China Sea: US Navy conducts FONOP near Mischief Reef of Spratly Islands

Guided-missile destroyers USS Spruance, and USS Preble, sailed within 22 km of a feature occupied by Chinese forces on Monday, Feb. 11

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Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Preble sails into sunset

Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Preble sails into sunset (By Wikimedia Commons)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – On Monday, Feb. 11, the United States conducted another Freedom of Navigation Operation (FONOP) in the South China Sea, sending two naval vessels near the Spratly Islands.

According to reports, the USS Spruance and USS Preble, both guided-missile destroyers, sailed within 22 km of the Spratly Island chain. The news comes on the day that a U.S. trade delegation arrived in Beijing for another round of talks in the ongoing trade conflict between U.S. and China.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet confirmed the FONOP Monday afternoon with international media, stating that the operation was conducted "to challenge excessive maritime claims and preserve access to the waterways as governed by international law."

Japan Times reports that the two ships came closest to Mischief Reef, a feature in the eastern Spratlys, which has been a site of major land reclamation and construction by the Chinese.

7th Fleet spokesperson Lt. Joe Keiley denied that the FONOP was designed to provoke any particular country. The operation was conducted to demonstrate that the U.S. “will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows. That is true in the South China Sea as in other places around the globe,” he said.

The voyage of the USS Spruance and USS Preble marks the second FONOP by U.S. forces through the disputed waters of the South China Sea in 2019. The first was conducted by the USS McCampbell, a USN destroyer that sailed within 12 nautical miles of the Paracel Islands on Monday, Jan. 7.

China has accused the U.S. of infringing upon its territorial waters with such operations. In September of last year, a U.S. Navy destroyer almost collided with a Chinese warship during a brief confrontation near the Spratly Island chain.