Amid Rising Tensions US Navy Challenges China’s South China Sea Claims

Foreign Affairs

Washington: Sino-US tensions continued to be on the boil as the US Navy once again challenged Chinese claims in the South China Sea sailing the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Mustin near the Paracel Islands on May 28.

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The US Navy has twice sailed warships in a similar effort to challenge Chinese claims to the Paracel and Spratly Islands in the last month and carrying out another such operation near the Paracels in March.

The increased operational tempo comes amid heightened tensions between Washington and Beijing on a range of issues including the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to exert greater control over Hong Kong and responsibility for the Coronavirus.

“On May 28 (local time), USS Mustin (DDG 89) asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the Paracel Islands, consistent with international law,” Lt Anthony Junco, a spokesperson for the US Navy’s 7th Fleet, said in a statement.

“By conducting this operation, the United States demonstrated that these waters are beyond what China can lawfully claim as its territorial sea,” the statement added.

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The Mustin passed within 12 nautical miles of Woody Island and Pyramid Rock in the islands, a US Navy official said. China maintains an airfield on Woody Island and has landed strategic bomber aircraft there in the past.

The Pentagon recently revealed that a Chinese vessel on April 14 conducted “unsafe and unprofessional manoeuvres” near the Mustin “which was conducting normal operations in international waters” at the time of the incident, according to Pentagon spokesman Lt Col Dave Eastburn.

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The Paracel Islands are claimed by China, Vietnam and Taiwan, and the US has long said Beijing has militarised the islands in the South China Sea via the deployment of military hardware and construction of military facilities.

The US military has recently accused China of seeking to exploit the Coronavirus pandemic to gain military and economic advantages in the region.