US Destroyer Sails Near Disputed Islands in South China Sea

US Destroyer Sails Near Disputed Islands in South China Sea
Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold (DDG 65), forward-deployed to the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations, conducts underway operations in the South China Sea on July 13, 2022. (U.S. Navy/Handout via Reuters)
Aldgra Fredly

The United States sent a destroyer through the South China Sea on July 13, in a region where the Chinese regime has made increasingly aggressive moves to bolster its illegal territorial claims.

The USS Benfold sailed near the disputed Paracel Islands—which China calls the Xisha Islands—as part of the U.S. Navy's "freedom of navigation operation," the U.S. Indo–Pacific Command said in a statement.

"The operation reflects our commitment to uphold freedom of navigation and lawful uses of the sea as a principle. The U.S. will continue to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows, as USS Benfold did here," it said.

The Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Southern Theater Command accused the Navy destroyer of "trespassing" in its territorial waters, and dispatched naval and air forces to warn it off.

The U.S. Navy rejected Beijing's assertion and said the Chinese regime aims to "misrepresent lawful U.S. maritime operations and assert its excessive and illegitimate maritime claims at the expense of its Southeast Asian neighbors in the South China Sea."

“Regardless of which claimant has sovereignty over the islands in the Paracel Islands, straight baselines cannot lawfully be drawn around the Paracel Islands in their entirety,” the U.S. Navy said, citing Article 7 of the Law of Sea Convention.

“With these baselines, China has attempted to claim more internal waters, territorial sea, exclusive economic zone, and continental shelf than it is entitled to under international law.”

Disputed Territory

While China seized the Paracel Islands from the former government of Vietnam in 1974, Taiwan and Vietnam contest Beijing's claim to the islands. In Vietnam, the islands are called the Hoang Sa Islands.

Beijing claims much of the South China Sea as its own under its "nine-dash line." A tribunal in the Hague ruled in 2016 that China’s claims to the bulk of the waters were without merit and ruled in favor of the Philippines; China has refused to abide by the decision.

Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam also have competing claims against China regarding the South China Sea.