The guided-missile destroyer Russell completed a freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea by the Spratly Islands on Wednesday.
China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines claim either all or some sovereignty of the Spratly Islands — and China, Vietnam and Taiwan all demand those participating in “innocent passage” through the territorial sea receive approval or provide advance notification beforehand.
But the 7th Fleet asserts that prior notification or approval violates international law, in accordance with the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention that permits vessels from any state to partake in innocent passage through the territorial sea.
“Unlawful and sweeping maritime claims in the South China Sea pose a serious threat to the freedom of the sea, including freedoms of navigation and overflight, free trade and unimpeded commerce, and freedom of economic opportunity for South China Sea littoral nations,” the 7th Fleet said in a news release.
“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 China, Taiwan, and Vietnam. The United States demonstrated that innocent passage may not be subject to such restrictions,” the 7th Fleet said.
The guided-missile destroyer John S. McCain’s transit “demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” 7th Fleet said in a statement.
The FONOP comes a little more than a week after aircraft carriers Theodore Roosevelt and Nimitz and their carrier strike groups completed dual-carrier operations in the South China Sea. The operation was the first time the U.S. had conducted dual-carrier operations there since July 2020.
The Navy claims that these exercises seek to bolster readiness and reassure partners and allies in the region.
“Through operations like this, we ensure that we are tactically proficient to meet the challenge of maintaining peace and we are able to continue to show our partners and allies in the region that we are committed to promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Rear Adm. Doug Verissimo, commander of the Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group, said in a Navy news release.
Additionally, the guided-missile destroyer John S. McCain headed through the Taiwan Strait on Feb. 4.