- US Navy destroyer sailed near Chinese artificial bases in Paracel Islands
- Pentagon said ship was merely exercising freedom of navigation under international law
- Chinese denounced move as illegal, said US did not ask permission to enter “territorial waters”
MANILA, Philippines – In a move certain to anger Beijing, the United States sailed a destroyer near islands containing one of China’s bases in the West Philippine Sea on Thursday, October 21.
The guided missile destroyer USS Decatur sailed just outside the 12-nautical mile limit of Triton and Woody Islands which form part of the Paracel Chain of Islands and are being claimed by China.
Woody Island is under Chinese control and is host to a runway and several anti-aircraft missiles.
The Decatur was shadowed by three Chinese vessels as it sailed past the islands.
According to the White House, the patrol was done to demonstrate freedom of navigation under international law.
“This operation demonstrated that coastal states may not unlawfully restrict the navigation rights, freedoms and lawful uses of the sea that the United States and all states are entitled to exercise under international law,” Reuters quoted spokesman Josh Earnest as saying.
According to international law professor James Kraska of the US Naval War College’s Stockton Center for the Study of International Law, the latest patrol challenged China’s “illegal straight baselines”.
“This transit appears to be an excellent challenge to China’s unlawful straight baselines around the Paracel Islands. There was no need in this case to transit within 12 nm of any individual island because China claims illegal straight baselines that encircle the entire island group,” he said.
For its part, China’s Defense Ministry blasted the US move as illegal and said they will bolster their forces in the area.
“We strongly urge the US side to respect China’s national sovereignty and security interests, and not keep repeating the same mistakes. The Chinese military will increase its air and maritime patrol efforts in accordance with need, strengthen defense ability building in all areas, and resolutely defend national sovereignty and security,” the ministry said.