US navy ship sails near Paracel Islands

USS Mustin demonstrates that China cannot lawfully claim area as its territorial sea

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USS Mustin (Flickr, Republic of Korea Armed Forces photo)

USS Mustin (Flickr, Republic of Korea Armed Forces photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A U.S. navy ship passed by the Paracel Islands (西沙群島) in the South China Sea on Thursday (May 28), in the latest challenge to China’s territorial claims in the region.

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin sailed within 12 nautical miles of Woody Island and Pyramid Rock, both of which are claimed by Beijing, a US navy official stated.

This move comes as U.S.-Sino relations have deteriorated due to a blame game row over the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19), and Beijing passing the Hong Kong National Security Law. According to CNN, Pentagon Spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Dave Eastburn revealed that one month prior, a Chinese vessel conducted "unsafe and unprofessional maneuvers" near the USS Mustin.

"By conducting this operation, the United States demonstrated that these waters are beyond what China can lawfully claim as its territorial sea," said Lieutenant Anthony Junco, a spokesperson for the U.S. Navy's 7th Fleet.

China has built military structures and deployed troops on contested islands in order to legitimize its claims. It also has routinely conducted military drills in the area.

On May 12, it was reported that Beijing was planning to conduct a large-scale landing exercise in August in the South China Sea, which spurred concerns it was preparing to capture the Taiwan-controlled Dongsha islands (Pratas Islands, 東沙群島). The beach landing maneuver will be carried out by the Southern Theater Command and will involve an unprecedented number of marines, landing ships, hovercrafts, and helicopters, according to Kyodo News.