US Navy destroyer, USS John McCain (not a typo), sailed within 12 miles of an artificial island built by China in the South China Sea on Thursday in what will be viewed by China as a “provocation” that will warrant a response from the Chinese government.
China has been engaged in a long standing dispute with its neighbors over its a network of artificial islands it constructed in the South China Sea.
Last year, the Philippines won a lawsuit filed in a UN court challenging China’s claim to ocean territory within a “nine-dash line”…a ruling which China refuses to recognize.
This latest US naval maneuver threaten to complicate President Trump’s efforts to align China towards a solution to North Korea nuclear crisis.
Zerohedge reports that the USS John McCain passed by the Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands in what US military officials justified as yet anoter “freedom of navigation” operation, the third since Trump took office. Over the past six months, the US has grown increasingly bold, or provocative as Beijing calls it, by sending aircraft and ships to contested waters in the South China Sea to the anger and frustration of Beijing.
A U.S. Navy destroyer carried out a “freedom of navigation operation” on Thursday, coming within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island built up by China in the South China Sea, U.S. officials told Reuters.
The operation came as President Donald Trump’s administration seeks Chinese cooperation in dealing with North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs and could complicate efforts to secure a common stance.
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the USS John S. McCain traveled close to Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands, among a string of islets, reefs and shoals. China has territorial disputes with its neighbors over the area.
It was the third “freedom of navigation operation” or “fonop” conducted during Trump’s presidency. Neither China’s defense ministry nor its foreign ministry immediately responded to a request for comment.
The operation was the latest attempt to counter what Washington sees as Beijing’s efforts to limit freedom of navigation in the strategic waters, and comes as Trump is seeking China’s cooperation to rein in North Korea.
The US military maintains that it’s within its rights to send military ships through the contested territory, explaining that the North Korean dispute is “separate” from the US’s political considerations involving China.
The United States has criticized China’s construction of islands and build-up of military facilities in the sea, and is concerned they could be used to restrict free nautical movement. The U.S. military has a long-standing position that its operations are carried out throughout the world, including in areas claimed by allies, and they are separate from political considerations.
The Trump administration has vowed to conduct more robust South China Sea operations.
Experts and officials have criticized President Barack Obama for potentially reinforcing China’s claims by sticking to innocent passage, in which a warship effectively recognized a territorial sea by crossing it speedily without stopping.
Whatever the motive, the region is a critical chokepoint for global trade with $5 trillion in cargo crossing the area every year; it is claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. While the US’s escalating tensions with North Korea have occupied the headlines, a series of near-miss confrontations with Russia and China have hinted at potentially more serious conflicts simmering beneath the surface.
Thursday’s provocation comes only a week after the US backed off a threatened trade war with the Chinese after its leaders supported tough new UN sanctions against North Korea amounting to a $1 billion ban on the isolated kingdom’s exports. Beijing also slammed its neighbor for its ongoing missile tests, which have provoked an unprecedented escalation of tensions with the US, although it has withheld from engaging in more aggressive containment measures aside from jawboning.
The move – which Beijing will shortly call another provocation by Washington – comes as Trump and Kim Jong Un continue to trade threats of nuclear annihilation, and which absent the diplomatic support of China will most likely result in military engagement.