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U.S. Destroyer Comes Within 12 Nautical Miles of Chinese South China Sea Artificial Island, Beijing Threatens Response

USS Lassen (DDG-82) underway in the Philippine Sea in 2015. US Navy Photo

USS Lassen (DDG-82) underway in the Philippine Sea in 2015. US Navy Photo

After months of deliberation, the U.S. has sent a guided missile destroyer within 12 nautical miles of a Chinese artificial island in the South China Sea in a move that practically rejects Chinese claims to the reclaimed reefs and has inflamed Beijing.

Late Monday USS Lassen (DDG-82) came within 12 nautical miles of Subi Reef — off the western coast of the Philippines — on which the Chinese have built a weather monitoring station and other facilities, said the Chinese Foreign Ministry via a report in The Associated Press.

The Pentagon spokesman would not confirm the account to USNI News but said in a late Monday statement, “the United States is conducting routine operations in the South China Sea in accordance with international law. U.S. forces operate in the Asia-Pacific region on a daily basis, including in the South China Sea.”

For its part the Chinese Foreign Ministry has said the move by the U.S. was provocative and threatened a commensurate response to the mission.

“China will resolutely respond to any country’s deliberate provocations,” the Ministry said in a statement.
“The actions of the U.S. warship have threatened China’s sovereignty and security interests, jeopardized the safety of personnel and facilities on the reefs, and damaged regional peace and stability.”

While China has confirmed Lassen came within 12 nautical miles— the distance of a country’s internationally recognized maritime boundary — and was contacted via radio it’s unclear what the ship did while in proximity to the island.

There is a stipulation in international maritime law known as “innocent passage” in which a warship can transit within a country’s 12 nautical mile boundary legally but it must do so expeditiously and without conducting any military actions such as transmitting propaganda or radiating targeting radars.

An innocent passage around the features could be interpreted as an implied recognition of Chinese sovereignty of the artificial islands — of which the U.S. does not recognize.

However, given the reaction from the Chinese Foreign Ministry, the likelihood Lassen’s passage conformed to the “innocent passage” rules are low.

The move drew praise from Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on seapower and projection forces.

“The passage of U.S. vessels within 12 nautical miles of China’s man-made features in the South China Sea is a necessary and overdue response to China’s destabilizing behavior in the region,” read a statement provided to USNI News. “International law is clear that China has no legitimate claim to sovereignty over these waters, and it is high time that this administration reaffirmed America’s enduring commitment to freedom of navigation and the maintenance of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.”

While Chinese installations to support their extensive claims in the South China Sea are not new — for example Beijing has had small buildings installed on poles in the middle of the South China Sea for years — the pace and scale of which China has rushed to build the installations are unprecedented.

Airstrip construction on the Fiery Cross Reef in the South China Sea is pictured in this April 2, 2015.

Airstrip construction on the Fiery Cross Reef in the South China Sea is pictured in this April 2, 2015.

Since the last freedom of navigation mission the U.S. conducted within 12 nautical miles of Chinese claims in 2013, the Chinese have reclaimed hundreds of acres on bases in the Spratlys and the Paracels including constructing a 10,000 foot runway on Fiery Cross Reef that puts the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia within strike fighter range of the airfield.

China has repeatedly denied the installations are or will be militarized but U.S. officials have said that could easily change.

“If you look at all of these facilities — and you could imagine a network of missiles sites, runways for their fifth generation fighters and surveillance sites and all that — it creates a mechanism in which China would have de facto control over the South China Sea in any scenario short of war,” U.S. Pacific Command commander Adm. Harry Harris said before the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) last month.

While Lassen’s mission is the first freedom of navigation mission around the artificial features in several years, it is unlikely to be the last.

“This is something that will be a regular occurrence, not a one-off event,” a U.S. defense official told Reuters.
“It’s not something that’s unique to China.”

  • FedUpWithWelfareStates

    Interjecting ourselves into some other country’s problems once again. Why weren’t the SCS claimant countries out there showing the flag? Are we to perpetually waste our limited resources protecting these leaches forever?

    • silencedogoodreturns

      Freedom of the seas is protecting the US, not any “leaches” (leeches?)

    • sferrin

      Not too bright are you?

  • Curtis Conway

    Well, the Chinese are destroying the very environment upon which their fishing fleet depends, and destroying coral reefs (live rock) as well. Their fishing grounds are already going barren due to lack of management and over fishing. Now they are striking out and assuming control of waters in other countries EEZs (Economic Exclusion Zones) claiming ancient rights that go back before both world wars. The Chinese will not go to international arbitration as they encroach on other nations fishing grounds, most of which these small nations depend on them heavily for providing sustenance to their own populations. The Chinese fishing fleet now prowls the waters from the East Coast of Africa to Alaskan waters, and having a negative and unregulated impact on the Pacific and IO basins. This will eventually affect us all.

    So . . . YES we are injecting ourselves into the Freedom Of Navigation argument around artificially established sovereignty of islands they are BUILDING. If they win this argument, we should build some of our own with the help of their smaller neighbors who are less able to defend themselves. This whole equation is bullying on an international scale pure and simple. The Chinese have tried to muddy the waters with ancient rights and international law arguments that they WILL NOT argue in the International Court. Before they argue this in the International Court . . . they must first buy the judges.

    • PridebeforetheFall

      Amazing what a feckless foreign policy will allow.

  • EMS

    Two bits of good news; The Pentagon refused White House requests to send the Love Boat on this mission and it didn’t run aground on the reefs.

    • publius_maximus_III

      I know, I know. Those mud-daubers would have split their sides laughing if we’d sent an LCS through the lurch instead. But a DDG, now there’s something to sit up and take notice of.

      As for its not running aground, I assume you’re alluding to that running aground of a PLAN frigate in the Spratleys back in 2012, right after the photo-op session where Sec-of-State Benghazi and the Chinese foreign minister got all huggy-huggy at the conclusion of an ASEAN summit.

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  • Curtis

    Prior to the start of negotiations the CPC has insisted that all parties must first accept that the CPC has sovereignty over everything.

    The CPC does not claims the entire South China Sea as its sovereign territory.

    The CPC does claim every islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features in the entire South China Sea as its sovereign territory.

    The CPC claims that this gives it a 12 mile territorial limit and a 200 mile EEZ. The CPC’s interpretation of a territorial limit and EEZ is inconsistent with international law and norms.

    We have seen how the CPC actually treats it’s EEZ as the same as it’s 12 mile territorial limit. These, together with its claims of every islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features in the entire South China Sea as its sovereign territory, effectively makes Vietnam and Brunei landlocked countries. Additionally the Gulf of Thailand would be an inland sea and therefor Cambodia would also be landlocked. It would also isolate Singapore as international trade could be required to bypass the South China Sea and Malacca Strait and utilize the Timor, Banda, Molucca and East Philippine seas.

    It should be very clear to not just Vietnam , Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines but to the whole world that the dictatorship of Xi and the leadership of the CPC means to control all of South East Asia. These resent reclamation projects in the South China Sea are meant to establish military bases in the area that threaten not only Vietnam , Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines but the stability of the Western Pacific. Everyone has seen that Agreements made by the CPC means nothing to them.

    The CPC agreed to the Declaration on the Code of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and these reclamation projects are a clear violation of section 5.

    Section 5.

    The Parties undertake to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability including, among others, refraining from action of inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features and to handle their differences in a constructive manner.

    Very soon the dictatorship of Xi and the leadership of the
    CPC will have several military bases in the South China Sea. From the above article

    It is clear that Xi and the leadership of the CPC means to control everything both economical and militarily in the South China Sea. This will happen very soon if they are not stopped NOW.

    What can be done?

    Clearly negotiations will not work because the CPC will not comply with any agreements they make.

    Clearly going to the UN will not work because the dictatorship of Xi and the leadership of the CPC has already said that they will not comply with any UN mandate.

    Clearly appeasement will not work because the dictatorship of Xi and the leadership of the CPC intends to control all of South East Asia and will stop at nothing until that is achieved. The dictatorship of Xi and the leadership of the CPC will continue its slow and methodical progression. Step by Step.

    So what should be done?

    1) Vietnam , Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan and the Philippines should get together and divide up the South China Sea. As the CPC has refused multilateral negotiations, they need not be a party to them.

    2) Vietnam , Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan and the Philippines should establish ADIZs that cover the South China Sea.

    3) Vietnam , Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan and the Philippines should invite the US, Australia, Japan and India for training exercises in the South China Sea. This should be a large exercise. The US should sent 5 Amphibious Expeditionary Strike Groups and 5 Carrier Strike Groups. This configuration would have available up to 500 carrier strike aircraft, 5 carriers, 5 amphibious assault ships, 10 LSD and LPDs, 30 cruisers or destroyers, 10 submarines, 11,000 Amphibious Marines.

    4) At the same time the Philippines should resupply the personal located on Second Thomas Shoal.

    5) At the same time Vietnam , Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan and the Philippines should stop all supplies from reaching all CPC reclamation projects in the South China Sea until the CPC withdraws all personal and equipment.

    6) At the same time Vietnam , Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan and the Philippines together with the US, Australia, Japan and India should notify the CPC that any aggressive moves by the CPC will not be tolerated and will be dealt with.

    • Pam

      I believe you have covered it all , well said. It’s about time the world is awakening, the warnings have thus far gone unheeded.

    • publius_maximus_III

      How do you say “Banzai” in Chinese?

      • Secundius

        @ publius_maximus_III.

        The “Literal” translation in English is “10,000-years”, but in Chinese it’s “wan nian”…

        • publius_maximus_III

          Well then, they’re gonna have to come up with something better than THAT — sound like dey be cwying.

          FYI, we have a Chinese restaurant in the area named Wan Fu which means 10,000 Happiness.

          • Secundius

            @ publius_maximus_III.

            Another “Literary” translation in English is “Long Live the King”. In Chinese is: “Guowang Wansui”…

          • publius_maximus_III

            Ah, much better — but would probably cause the choking reflex to activate in the throat of a Chinese communist.

        • publius_maximus_III

          How about “Mah-Jic-Wan” (which means abracadabra in English.)

  • silencedogoodreturns

    “within” or “inside” of 12nm? 12nm is still international waters. This is looking a little wimpy.

    • Secundius

      @ silencedogoodreturns.

      I believe the Term Phrase, is called “Skirting the Prescriptions”…

    • James Webb fan

      “Old Yellow Stain” in the White House probably had to prodded for weeks by Ashton Carter and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to even go within twelve miles with just one ship.

  • Don Bacon

    The US isn’t very good at public relations, here saying that this was simply a “routine operation” that nevertheless apparently required a presidential order resulting from a lot of Congressional blather from McCain, Forbes and company. This means that it wasn’t routine, everyone knows that, so China’s reaction might be to move some heavy weapons to an island, and then what. Another “innocent passage” and then more weapons and then more routine passages? In the South China Sea? Pass the popcorn.

    • sferrin

      Glad to see you take such delight in watching the South Pacific get rolled by the Chinese.

  • sferrin

    Told you they wouldn’t go inside 12 miles. There is no “Chinese sovereignty” and any and all claims should be utterly rejected and subsequently ignored. Should have floated them within two miles. And should continue to do this at every reclaimed “island”.

  • muzzleloader

    “Threatened China’s sovereignty? My a$$! The US should be sending the entire Ronald Reagan battle group within visual range of the “island”, and let the Chicoms fret and moan. The US along with all sea faring nations has to stand up to these thugs and put them in their place.

    • sferrin

      Never happen. China has the current occupant of the White House utterly and completely cowed.

      • muzzleloader

        Or owned, or both lol

    • Greg

      Freaking-A right.

    • Elapoides

      And you believe Obama & his regime would do that? Really? The only balls Obama has are those which are usually in his mouth, those of Putin.

      • Mike m

        I have to agree.

    • John Wayne

      Are you going to volunteer to serve? The Chinese have a massive submarine force and 2 torpedoes can effectively render an Aircraft carrier useless.
      Never underestimate your enemy and a submarine is cheap hardware to take out a multi billion dollar ship.

      • LOLfool

        You obviously know nothing about naval warfare and/or the tactics, equipment, and skill needed to accomplish the feat of “rendering an aircraft carrier useless.” You also obviously have no clue about the capabilities of Chinese submarines. 67 Subs is also not a “massive submarine force.” Please do some research on the subject before spreading your stupidity.

        • Secundius

          @ LOLfool.

          Other then the Fact, while traveling underwater, they make as much Noise as a 100-Piece Band or ~115-decibels…

      • sferrin

        So by that “logic” anybody who chose a different career path is required to be a pacifist? Screw you and the retarded horse you rode in on.

      • muzzleloader

        Spoken like a true libtard tool.

      • unidentifiedwrangler

        I DID sign up. 4 years in the marine corps as an 0311, I went to AFG in 2/9, and to Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines with 1/8. And yes, I would also prefer we did SOMETHING rather than sit on our hands while making noise about the “islands.” Chinese naval power isn’t anywhere near a match to us, and they know it. They’re following the (ironically American) doctrines of Mahan, and testing us. Let’s respond with force, for once, with no second guessing. The Marines are willing.

  • cjleete

    “Ello China, just stopping by to say “NEENER NEENER”

  • disqus_zommBwspv9

    Sad thing this plan of reclaiming land on reefs most likely started around 1996

  • Tim

    I am sure Boeing $38 billion aircraft deal with China is in doubt.

    • jim

      They have a history of copying other country’s designs then knocking them out themselves, they already did that to Russia a couple times and undersold them after. It might be a good thing in the long.

    • Ctrot

      Boeing will get the boot from China when they start building their Comac C929.

    • Secundius

      @ Tim.

      EVERY Out Sourced Business with China, is in DOUBT. Not to mention the American’s actually living in China…

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  • Tim

    Win-win outcomes: US has met his little brother’s wish and China shows the world his sovereignty over the islands.

  • Elapoides

    Why is it that China’s 5th generation fighter jets look surprisingly like the YF-23? And of course the obvious counterfeit of the F-35! Did Obama give them the blueprints like Clinton gave them the rocket tech to orbit satellites, hence also giving them the capability to launch ICBMs?

    • Secundius

      @ Elapoides.

      Actually it looked a lot like the F-22 Raptor, to me. The YF-23 Black Widow, is more “elongated” in appearance…

      • Elapoides

        The Chinese stealth fighter I’m speaking about is not in any of the photos, Google it.

        • Secundius

          @ Elapoides.

          The Chengdu J-20, doesen’t even Remotely look like the Northrop YF-23 Black Widow and the Shenyang J-31, look a Lot like the Lockheed-Martin F-22A Raptor…

          • Elapoides

            The aircraft I’m speaking of has not been made very public. One more thing, I’m responding to you from Shenyang, China, look it up. I’m a pilot, and I know my aircraft, and these jets were shown briefly on TV several years ago. I don’t have the time to find the info you require, but I’m sure you can find it. It was an issue approx. 4 – 5 years ago, then the story disappeared.

          • Secundius

            @ Elapoides.

            The most RECENT Photo of Concept Model, is at least 2-years old. No Name Given, but is known as the LRS (Long-Range Strike). It’s actually a Bomber Replacement for the Xian H-6K (Soviet-era Tupolev Tu-16 NATO Code Named: “Badger”). Suppose to be a Side-By-Side, Twin-Seater, Piloted by WOMEN. Chinese look at women as being Expendable Assets. Range is ~2,300-kilometers, payload and speed Unknown. “Reef Island’s” are intended as possible Launching Sites. Intended goal is to be able to reach Hawai’i or even Australia. Looks like a Cross between the Northrop YF-23 Black Widow and the Sukhoi Su-34 NATO Code Name: “Fullback”. Still has not gone into production, still trying to Work-Out the Design. Currently there are at least 6 different design’s of the Model…

    • Secundius

      @ Elapoides.

      YF-23A PAV-1 (S/N 87-800) is a USAF Test Flight Center Edwards AFB, CA. YF-23A PAV-2 (S/N 87-801) is Exhibited at the Western Museum in Hawthorne, CA. Plans are Stored at the 309th Air Force Material Command, Aerospace Maintenance & Reclamation Group; Unit 31 Davis-Monthan AFB, Tucson, AZ…

  • Jerry Nolan

    China can suck it. Subi Reef is 495 nautical miles from Hainan Island, the closest point of actual Chinese landmass. They have no legitimate claim to Subi or any of the other small islands in that vicinity. This is what happens when you have a limp-wristed poser in the White House and no consistent, forceful foreign policy anywhere in the world.

    • publius_maximus_III

      Umm, Jerry, “limp-wristed” is now politically incorrect. I believe you meant to use the term “panty-waisted”.

      • Jerry Nolan

        Publius, you’re right, “panty-waisted” was the term I wanted to use. What was I thinking? 🙂

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  • Hugh

    Typical Chinese, do something wrong then blame everyone else! And they are arming to the hilt, way beyond “defensive”, most certainly to bully and divide and conquer everyone in their 1/3 of the world. They mustn’t get away with it.

  • Dennis S Winningstad

    A weak, indecisive POTUS with a purged military provides incentive for mischief from our adversaries.

  • publius_maximus_III

    “While China has confirmed Lassen came within 12 nautical miles— the distance of a country’s internationally recognized maritime boundary — and was contacted via radio it’s unclear what the ship did while in proximity to the island.”

    Overheard by a passing fishing boat:

    Now hear this. Now hear this.
    All hands on deck.
    Man the starboard rail.
    Abooout FACE.
    Bend OVER.
    Drop drawers, DROP….

    • Secundius

      @ publius_maximus_III.

      I fairly certain that Lassen wasn’t the ONLY “Friendly” Ship in the Area. It tried to get a Accurate “Weather Gauge” of the Possible “Storm Forces” in the Area. But ONLY got Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines, But NO Number’s…

      • publius_maximus_III

        I hope those other SCS maritime nations with skin in the game are showing their flags, too, Secundius. Time to take the Dragon down a peg or two.

        Weather Station Bravo-Sierra extended forecast: Mostly USN, with a chance of friendly nation participation. Continued squalls from mainland China.

  • publius_maximus_III

    More destroyers, more destroyers, more Arleigh Burke DDG destroyers.

    • Secundius

      @ publius_maximus_III.

      A Flight III, Arleigh Burke class Destroyer in 2015 Prices. Is ~$2,000,695,222.27 USD/Ship…

      • publius_maximus_III

        A few more destroyers, a few more destroyers, a few more Arleigh Burke DDG destroyers….

  • willynilly

    I am thinking a few drops and all that work is gone. in the blink of an eye

  • Russell Smith

    It is one thing to send the navy into the disputed waters of the Chinese. It is another when they strike out against them with Obama as the President of this nation.

    • publius_maximus_III

      Leading with his behind.

  • Chesapeakeguy

    I’ve actually been wondering where are the ‘Green Peace’ folks in all this? the building of these artificial islands has to be having a significant impact on the marine life there, and the destruction of coral reefs would sure bring them out if the US NAVY was involved in that! Of course, you gotta wonder also what the ChiComs would do about a Green Peace demonstration? Only one way to find out, I reckon….

  • Secundius

    @ Sailboater.

    The First Known application of Land Reclamation from the Sea, was in 1612. The Netherlands, reclaimed ~27-sq.mi. of land, which is Now Known as “Beemster Polder”…

  • Secundius

    @ Elapoides.

    The First Country to employ Outsourcing was, Imperial Japan in 1868. The First American Company to employ Outsourcing was Falls River Textiles in Falls River, Massachusetts in 1903. Because the Worker’s wanted to “Literally” feed their Starving Children Bread. So the people you mentioned, are just part of a “Long Line” of Corporate/Company Employers stretching all the way back to 1903, in the United States…

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  • terrymengle

    How can China claim their artificially built islands are in their territory? These artificial islands are between Vietnam and the Philippine islands far South of China and are in no way near China or its’ territorial waters. It looks like someone in our government just finally woke up to China’s encroachment. Are we finally growing a backbone in international affairs?

  • John B. Morgen

    We are within our rights under international law to send warships through the South China Sea, unless China is hiding something on this hybrid island? Nevertheless, we should continue to send more warships, but increase their numbers; furthermore, we should also make it quite clear to the Chinese that we will protect this right with armed force, so it is understood by the international community.

  • Anthony Papagallo

    In such a confrontation it is not necessary to ‘beat’ America, but only to make it ‘bleed’

    America is a nation more polarised and riven with ethnic, cultural and social discontentment than at any time in its brief history. Its Elites rule with an iron fist while the gap between the rich and the poor grows ever larger, scratch a few millimetres below America’s cultural surface and you find a country simmering with anger.

    The sight of an American Aircraft Carrier in flames with its crew of 5000 men and women burning alive and drowning broadcast across the tv screens of America is likely to have a sobering affect on the population as it dawns on them that the sons and daughters of America’s heartlands are not being sacrificed for anything so noble as the protection of the homeland from an invading army but to defend the share prices of Northrop, Raytheon and Boeing and the assets of its wealthy elites.

    Civil Disobedience will overtake the country allowing the Government to use deadly force against its own people.

    The likely result would be Civil War in America

    and all China has to do is make America ‘bleed’

    • publius_maximus_III

      The Divided States of America.

      As for those iron-fisted ruling Elites, I just heard from my wife who’s visiting with family that the local officials there have decided to change Halloween to tonight because it’s supposed to rain tomorrow night. Big Brother has spoken. That is all.

    • sferrin

      If China managed to get lucky enough to sink a carrier you can be sure US citizens would set aside their differences and return the favor with interest. The Chinese navy would cease to exist in a matter of days.

  • Mike m

    Not meant as a provocation? It is certainly meant to poke the bear. The idea is that since neither side wants a shooting war especially the US who is without a true leader this needs to be worked out by diplomatic action. At the same time Russian warplanes are posterior by flying near one of our Capitol ships. As long as we are perceived as hesitant to reply this will continue.

    • publius_maximus_III


      Speaking of Russian warplanes flying near one of our capital ships, have you heard about the rumored flyover of the USS Donald Cook by a Russian Su-24 tactical bomber back on April 12, 2014, a few days after she entered the Black Sea? I’ve read that the electronic device on the unarmed Russian aircraft disabled all radars, control circuits, systems, information transmission, etc. on board the US destroyer.

      Vladimir Balybine – director of the research center on electronic warfare and the evaluation of so-called “visibility reduction” techniques attached to the Russian Air Force Academy – made the following comment: “The more a radio-electronic system is complex, the easier it is to disable it through the use of electronic warfare.”

      Do a BING or Google search to find a Voltairenet-dot-com article on this, can’t post the url here.

    • sferrin

      It’s meant to demonstrate that we don’t acknowledge China’s territory claims. And you’re right, as long as we hesitate both China and Putin will continue their antics. They realize what a weak President Obama is and are maximizing the opportunity. They will take as much as they can as quickly as they can.

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