A US Navy destroyer conducts a freedom of navigation exercise in South China Sea

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Lt. Nicholas Lingo spoke for the US Navy’s 7th Fleet based in Japan. He said that it was the second freedom of navigation operation in Paracel Islands (also known as the Xisha Islands) this year and the third to target Beijing’s “excessive marine claims” in region waters in the same period.

Lingo stated that Wednesday’s operation of the guided-missile-destroyer USS Benfold posed a challenge to not only China but Vietnam as well as Taiwan. Both claim the islands.

Paracels is a group of 130 small coral reefs and islands in the northern part of the South China Sea. According to the CIA World Factbook, they have no indigenous population. They are populated by 1,400-strong Chinese military garrisons.

They have been held in Chinese hands for almost 50 years. During that time, they’ve been populated by People’s Liberation Army military installations (PLA).

According to the PLA’s Southern Theater Command it advised the US destroyer not to enter its territorial waters.

PLA Air Force Col. Tianjunli, spokesperson of the Southern Theater Command stated in a statement that “the actions of US military have seriously violated China’s sovereignty and security. They also seriously undermined the peace, stability, and the South China Sea,”

Lingo, spokesperson for the US 7th Fleet, stated that the US destroyer’s sailing “upheld the rights and freedoms of the sea as recognized in international law.”

The statement stated that “unlawful and broad maritime claims in South China Sea pose an serious threat to freedom of the seas”, including freedoms of navigation, overflight and commerce and freedom of economic opportunities for South China Sea-littoral countries.

“Under international law… all ships, including warships, have the right to innocent passage through the territorial ocean. “It is illegal to unilaterally impose any authorization or advance notification requirement for innocent passage,” stated the US Navy statement.

The assertion of freedom of navigation means that you can sail within the 12-mile boundary from a country’s coastline, as per international law.

According to the US Navy, Wednesday’s operation was also challenged by “straight baselines”, moves that define all waters within an island chain as one territorial claim.

“International law doesn’t allow continental States like the PRC to establish baselines around whole dispersed islands groups. The 7th Fleet statement referred to the People’s Republic of China. It stated that the PRC had attempted to claim more of its internal waters, territorial seas, exclusive economic zones and continental shelves with these baselines.

The PLA stated Wednesday that the US Navy was increasing tensions within the region.

According to the PLA statement, “Facts again demonstrate that the United States is an out and out ‘South China Sea Risor Maker’ and disruptor of Regional Peace & Stability,”

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