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US sails through South China Sea challenging Taiwan's 'unlawful restrictions'

US Navy destroyer passes Paracel Islands to protest Taiwan, Vietnam, China claims

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A member of the U.S. Navy's 7th Fleet sails through the Paracel Islands on Sunday. (U.S. Navy 7th Fleet photo)

A member of the U.S. Navy's 7th Fleet sails through the Paracel Islands on Sunday. (U.S. Navy 7th Fleet photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The U.S. Navy sailed near the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea on Sunday (Nov. 26) to challenge what it called "unlawful restrictions" imposed by Taiwan, Vietnam, and China who claim sovereignty in the region.

The commander of the U.S. 7th Fleet released a statement on Sunday and said that the three countries’ respective claims on the Paracel Islands and associated restrictions on free passage are illegal under international law.

“By engaging in innocent passage without giving prior notification to or asking permission from any of the claimants, the United States challenged these unlawful restrictions imposed by the PRC (People’s Republic of China), Taiwan, and Vietnam,” the statement said.

Taiwan claims multiple islands in the Paracel group, but is not in control of any. All are under Chinese control, and are subject to multiple countries’ sovereignty claims.

The passage comes after Taiwan’s Coast Guard and defense minister gave conflicting information about a similar U.S. Navy exercise carried out in early November that saw U.S. ships sail near the Spratly Island group. The Spratly Group contains Taiping Island, which is claimed by Taiwan, China, the Philippines, and Vietnam, but is under Taiwan’s control.

The exercise was announced by the U.S. Navy, but Taiwan’s Coast Guard said U.S. ships did not enter Taiwan’s territorial waters. Later, Taiwan’s defense minister said that he had information indicating that the U.S. ships did enter its territorial waters.

The dispute came as Taiwan legislators prepare to visit Taiping Island, also known as Itu Aba. Legislators said on Nov. 12 that in December they would travel to Taiping to "inspect and declare sovereignty" over the island.