U.S. Navy destroyer sails close to more disputed islands
A U.S. guided-missile destroyer sailed close to a disputed island chain in the West Philippine Sea/South China Sea on Saturday, July 16, following a similar operation in another chain three days earlier to challenge “excessive maritime claims” in the region.
The USS Benfold cruised around the Spratly Islands, a group of about 100 islands between Vietnam and the Philippines, as part of a freedom-of-navigation operation, the U.S. 7th Fleet said in a Saturday news release.
Three days before, the Benfold made a similar pass near the Paracel Islands, about 500 miles from the Spratlys, Stars & Stripes reported. China’s Southern Theater Command denounced the action by calling the U.S. a “security risk maker in the South China Sea” and a “destroyer of regional peace and stability,” according to the official China Military Online website.
Saturday’s operation is the fourth of its kind by the Benfold this year. The destroyer on Jan. 18 cruised the Spratlys, and then turned north to steam through the Paracels two days later.
China considers much of the South China Sea to be its territory, and it regularly denounces the presence of warships in the region.
Small military outposts from China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam occupy some 45 islands in the Spratlys, according to the CIA World Factbook. China has occupied the Paracel Islands since 1974 with about 20 outposts.
Both the Spratlys and the Paracels are claimed in full by China, Taiwan and Vietnam, and the operations were meant to challenge “unlawful” restrictions imposed by the three countries, such as requiring permission or advanced notice for “innocent passage” through territorial waters, according to the 7th Fleet.
All ships, including warships, have the right to innocent passage through territorial seas under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. .