Home » Budget Industry » U.S. Destroyer Passes Near Chinese Artificial Island in South China Sea Freedom of Navigation Operation


U.S. Destroyer Passes Near Chinese Artificial Island in South China Sea Freedom of Navigation Operation

USS William P. Lawrence (DDG-110) transits the Philippine Sea on March 30, 2016, US Navy Photo

USS William P. Lawrence (DDG-110) transits the Philippine Sea on March 30, 2016, US Navy Photo

A U.S. guided missile destroyer came within 12 nautical miles of a contested Chinese artificial island in the Spratly Island chain in the South China Sea on Tuesday, U.S. officials told USNI News on Tuesday morning.

USS William P. Lawrence (DDG-110) conducted a freedom of navigation operation past the Chinese installation on Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Island chain, according to a U.S. Defense Department statement.

The FON op was conducted to, “challenge excessive maritime claims by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam which were seeking to restrict navigation rights in the South China Sea. This operation challenged attempts by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam to restrict navigation rights around the features they claim, specifically that these three claimants purport to require prior permission or notification of transits through the territorial sea, contrary to international law,” Pentagon spokesman Cmdr. Bill Urban told USNI News.
“These excessive maritime claims are inconsistent with international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention in that they purport to restrict the navigation rights that the United States and all States are entitled to exercise. No claimants were notified prior to the transit, which is consistent with our normal process and international law.”

Chinese officials were quick to condemn Lawrence’s passage past the installation built on reclaimed land on Fiery Cross. The Chinese have built a 10,000-foot runway on the island that could easily accommodate military aircraft.

“This action by the U.S. side threatened China’s sovereignty and security interests, endangered the staff and facilities on the reef, and damaged regional peace and stability,” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Lu Kang told reporters on Tuesday.

Fiery Cross Reef in September 2015. CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/DigitalGlobe Photo

Fiery Cross Reef in September 2015. CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/DigitalGlobe Photo

The operation is the third U.S. South China Sea FON op conducted past a Chinese held South China Sea installations since the U.S. resumed conducting regular freedom of navigation operations in the region October.

In January, USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG-54) came within 12 nautical miles of a Chinese installation on Triton Island in the Paracel Island chain near Vietnam. In late October, USS Lassen (DDG-84) conducted a FON op past the Chinese artificial holding on Subi Reef in the Spratlys.

The U.S. presence in the South China Sea has been higher in recent weeks. The John C. Stennis carrier strike group (CSG) – to which William Lawrence is attached – has quietly been operating in the South China Sea. Additionally, U.S. Air Force A-10 Warthogs operating from the Philippines have conducted maritime patrols near the disputed Scarborough Shoal — claimed by both China and the Philippines.

The following is the May 10, 2016 statement from the Pentagon on the FON op.

The Department of Defense conducted a routine freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea on the morning of May 10 (evening of May 9 in the U.S.), specifically in the vicinity of Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands, to uphold the rights and freedoms of all States under international law and to challenge excessive maritime claims of some claimants in the South China Sea.

During this operation, USS William P. Lawrence (DDG-110) exercised the right of innocent passage while transiting inside 12 nautical miles of Fiery Cross Reef, a high-tide feature that is occupied by China, but also claimed by the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam. This operation challenged attempts by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam to restrict navigation rights around the features they claim, specifically that these three claimants purport to require prior permission or notification of transits through the territorial sea, contrary to international law. Because the Philippines’ maritime claims in relation to South China Sea features do not purport to restrict the exercise of navigation rights and freedoms under the Law of the Sea by the United States and others, they were not challenged during this operation.

These excessive maritime claims are inconsistent with international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention in that they purport to restrict the navigation rights that the United States and all States are entitled to exercise. No claimants were notified prior to the transit, which is consistent with our normal process and international law.

This operation demonstrates, as President Obama has stated, that the United States will fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows. That is true in the South China Sea as in other places around the globe.

Since 1979, the U.S. Freedom of Navigation program has demonstrated non-acquiescence to excessive maritime claims by coastal States all around the world. The program includes both consultations and representations by U.S. diplomats and operational activities by U.S. military forces.

This operation did not challenge territorial claims to land features. The United States takes no position on competing territorial sovereignty claims among the parties to naturally formed land features in the South China Sea.

The United States does, however, take a strong position on protecting and upholding the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea and airspace guaranteed to all countries and that all maritime claims must comply with international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention.

  • sensi

    A few facts lost on our Western “free press” and “journalists” parroting the US/Western official propaganda pushed down the masses throats (remember Iraq’s non-existing WMD and Yellow Cake stockpiles?) along the US pivot to Asia hegemonic agenda:

    “In practice, as some in the region recall, long before the United States turned against them as part of its “pivot to Asia” in 2010, America had supported China’s claims in the Paracels and Spratlys. The U.S. Navy facilitated China’s replacement of Japan’s military presence in both island groups in 1945 because it considered that they were either part of Taiwan, as Japan had declared, or – in the words of the Cairo Declaration – among other “territories Japan [had] stolen from the Chinese” to “be restored to the Republic of China.” From 1969 to 1971, the United States operated a radar station in the Spratlys at Taiping Island, under the flag of the Republic of China.. (…)

    Neither the Paracels nor the Spratlys ever mattered to the United States at all (except as hazards to navigation) until they became symbols of Washington’s determination to curtail the rise of China’s power along its periphery. No country with claims to the Spratlys interferes with shipping or peacetime naval transit in the South China Sea. Nor does any party in the region have an interest in threatening commerce transiting it. The South China Sea is every littoral nation’s jugular. China and the other countries on the South China Sea have a far greater stake in assuring freedom of navigation in and through it than the United States does. (…)

    In 1945, in accordance with the Cairo and Potsdam Declarations and with American help, the armed forces of the Republic of China government at Nanjing accepted the surrender of the Japanese garrisons in Taiwan, including the Paracel and Spratly Islands. Nanjing then declared both archipelagoes to be part of Guangdong Province. In 1946 it established garrisons on both Woody (now Yongxing) Island in the Paracels and Taiping Island in the Spratlys. (…)

    “Woody Island in the Paracel’s and Taiping Island in the Spratly’s are the only naturally habitable Islands in the South China Seas. And have been Chinese ever since their return to China from Japan after the end of WWII per Japan’s surrender agreement.”
    (Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. (USFS, Ret.))

    “Japanese scholar Taoka Shunji criticized Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for trying to falsely portray China as a threat to Japan and that it was invading its neighbors like the Philippines. He pointed out that the Spratly islands were not part of the Philippines when the US acquired the Philippines from Spain in the Treaty of Paris in 1898, and the Japanese-ruled Taiwan itself had annexed the Spratly islands in 1938, a move that was never challenged by the US-ruled Philippines, which never asserted that it was their territory. He also pointed out that other countries did not need to do full land reclamation since they already controlled islands [with military installations and airstrips] and that the reason China engaged in extensive land reclamation is because they needed it to build airfields since China only has control over reefs.”

    (wikipedia, Territorial_disputes_in_the_South_China_Sea)

    • sferrin

      Says the Chi-bot.

    • Vlad Pufagtinenko

      Chinese culture…
      orlandoweekly_com/Blogs/archives/2016/05/09/chinese-visitors-welcome-disneyland-to-town-by-defecating-in-the-bushes

    • On Dre

      So what you are saying is that these islands belong to Taiwan. Got it.

    • tachyonzero

      Oh 50 cents created a one sided one page rebuttal

    • agnosic1

      “Republic of China” = Nationalists = Taiwan
      Lovely photo of Generalissimo and Madame Chiang Kai-shek with US Army Gen. Joseph Stilwell in Burma (1942) at Wikipedia: Republic_of_China_(1912–49).

  • Cocidius

    In response to this lone US Destroyer the Chinese deployed two J-11 fighter jets, a Y-8 AWACS aircraft, a guided missile destroyer, and two frigates.

    If I’m not mistaken this is the largest response to a USN FON op to date and clearly it was an attempt by the Chinese military to pressure the USS William P. Lawrence to leave the area.

    • sferrin

      And they say it’s the US causing problems. China is nothing but a thug trying to intimidate it’s neighbors into letting it have what doesn’t belong to it.

    • Refguy

      Responses to FoN in the Gulf of Sidra were larger.

      • TransformerSWO

        And more expensive for the other side too. 😉

      • Cocidius

        I agree, I was just talking about the South China Sea.

        • Refguy

          OK. Not everyone on this site is old enough to remember Reagan

  • Cocidius

    Perhaps we should ask the people of Tibet who holds the title of the “greatest evil warmonger on earth”?

    • On Dre

      At Banlas… You have serious issues with racism and prejudice.

  • GHynson

    The land belongs to whomever can hold onto it,.
    If China or anyone else feels like Guam or Hawaii don’t belong to the US, they are welcome to come and try and take it.

    • Banlas

      Whatever is the case, please remember that both Hawaii and Guam were invaded and stolen from their natives. Please tell the fact to your children, grandchildren and the future generations to come.

      • GHynson

        You forgot to add Diego Garcia to your list. As you can see, the US is not the only one in history of taking land from someone else, EVERY major power does it, including CHINA. Been that why since the dawn of man.

        • Curtis Conway

          Diego Garcia is a British possession, and the United States has built extensive facilities there at their pleasure. If fact the lease is up for renewal soon. The Common Wealth uses the facilities as well. The United States didn’t take anything from anyone.

          • GHynson

            The American’s AND British physically removed the natives off of Deigo Garcia in order to build the base. If you do your research the truth will be revealed.

      • On Dre

        You do know that they can read about it in any book. Or they can learn about this in school. Heck, they can even take graduate level course about it in college.
        The government does not control the media like the commie Chinese does. Information here is not nearly as repressed as in China.
        Proof you want? Go find out what Queen Elizabeth said about the British recent visit to china. You kind find it on any search page. Except of course the ones monitored and censored in China.

        • Banlas

          Don’t be too naive to think that anyone who opined an alternative opinion is from China. China can be repressive at times but that doesn’t mean it’s as warmongering or threatening as U.S. Comparing to U.S bloody invasion against Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, the last time China was involved in some sort of border skirmishes was almost a few decades ago.

          As for the Queen, what is her issue?. First, why should she bother to react so sarcastically when the issue has nothing to do with her. It’s not that the Chinese official rudely told her off. Secondly did she bother to ask the reason why did the Chinese official walked out after talking to two British women officials on Xi’s official visits to U.K. Are the British men all dead? Thirdly as a neutral person being a queen, she should act more responsibly and respect instead of chattering away talking bad behind about others. Bad leadership skill like her husband Prince Philip and her womanizing son Prince Charles.

          • agnosic1

            Oh, that explains it. She’s just the Queen of England. But now you’re informing us the Chinese delegation preferred a man. Thanks Banlas!

          • Banlas

            Better for you to do some research on how the Queen and her officials have scant respect for security coverage of foreign leaders even for Obama, what more President Xi.

          • agnosic1

            ” …Then, in a separate exchange at the palace that day, the queen is taped describing Chinese officials as “very rude.”

            That happened at a garden party, as Elizabeth was introduced to Metropolitan Police Cmdr. Lucy D’Orsi, who led security procedures during the state visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping last October.

            Upon hearing of D’Orsi’s role during the Chinese visit, the queen immediately responds, “Oh, bad luck.” The Lord Chamberlain goes on to say that D’Orsi was “seriously, seriously undermined by the Chinese.”

            D’Orsi is heard saying that it was “quite a testing time” and adds that at one point, Chinese officials walked out and said “the trip was off.”

            The queen then says, “They were very rude to the ambassador.” It’s not clear what exactly the Chinese officials did that the queen deemed rude. ”

            (source–NPR: The Two-Way 2016/05/11)

      • agnosic1

        “Guam is governed by a popularly elected governor and a unicameral 15-member legislature, whose members are known as senators. Guam elects one non-voting delegate, currently Democrat Madeleine Z. Bordallo, to the United States House of Representatives. ”

        “In the 1980s and early 1990s, there was a significant movement in favor of the territory becoming a commonwealth, which would give it a level of self-government similar to Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands. However, the federal government rejected the version of a commonwealth that the government of Guam proposed, due to it having clauses incompatible with the Territorial Clause (Art. IV, Sec. 3, cl. 2) of the U.S. Constitution. Other movements advocate U.S. statehood for Guam, union with the state of Hawaii, union with the Northern Mariana Islands as a single territory, or independence.”

        (source: Wikipedia)

      • Cocidius

        Uh huh, just like the situation in Tibet. Still not talking about that, right?

  • sferrin

    ROFL! You better do better than that if you want to stay on Uncle Xi’s chi-bot crew.

  • GHynson

    I guess we all have to pay up for Cain killing Able? Don’t hold modern day Tibet accountable for the sins of their fathers. That’s like blaming every American for the deaths of the Native Americans 100 years ago. Whatever my great grandfather did to the natives, died with him, not me. There’s plenty of cultures China has wiped out in it’s history as well, and they got their land they are sitting on now from someone.

  • Vlad Pufagtinenko

    Largest evil warmonger….you mean Putin???

  • Ctrot

    The US Navy should conduct live fire exercises in the international waters within 12 miles of these illegally constructed military bases.

    • TransformerSWO

      Or at least flight operations – something that demonstrates clearly that we are not conducting “innocent passage” through territorial seas, but rather that we consider these truly international waters. There’s no need to be overly aggressive – just make the point about how these artificial reefs should be treated in international law, and counter Chinese claims that they should be treated as land, and land that belongs to them.

  • Hugh

    Stop rattling sabres and take a civilised 21st century approach. Didn’t all stakeholder nations sign the Law of the Sea Convention several decades ago, which provides for a 12 nm territorial limit and a 200 nm exclusive economic zone, which get split 50/50 when lands of different nations are sufficiently close, and which excludes lands which are not permanently naturally above sea levels? And certainly take into account competing claims. The forthcoming findings of the International Court will be interesting, and should be honoured by all such stakeholders in good faith, and could pave the way for similar legal actions by other nations.

    • Refguy

      The US did NOT ratify the convention. Either we are are not a stakeholder or not all stakeholders are parties to the convention.

  • Refguy

    Interesting that SecDef doesn’t think this FoN cruise is classified

    • TransformerSWO

      It wouldn’t serve its purpose if it were classified. It has to be publicly known in order for the consistent challenge to excessive claims to “count” in international law.

      • Refguy

        Agreed, but Carter didn’t announce earlier FON in the area and was criticized by McCain because the first the public knew was from news stories about foreign reactions. Carter defended himself by saying that he thought the FON were classified, but he didn’t know who classified them. This was on the USNI news feed recently (last week?)

  • Danny Lewis

    This is an “artificial” island, so the “12” mile limit is artificial too. A coral reef is not a land mass, so any Chinese claims to these coral reefs should not be considered as anything territorial.

    • tachyonzero

      according to chinese definition of law artificial can have sovereignty because its been a chinese for thousands and billions of years.

      As long they drop a porcelain on your bathtub, they can claim it.

      • Danny Lewis

        Hahaha. Touché. By using that definition, they own every single home and business here since everyone has bought their products.

  • John B. Morgen

    Maybe if the United States takes over a sand bar island, then build more of an artificial island on top of it, and see how well the Chinese react towards such a move. Now that is an idea.

  • agnosic1

    Nice arguments in this discussion. What happens when China decides to build a military installation (i.e. “reclaimed island”) adjacent to Saipan and Tinian? Or the Farallon Islands?

  • KazuakiShimazaki

    I’m yes and no on this one.

    I agree that China’s claims have no legitimacy, so someone should be challenging them, and given the real capabilities of the powers in the region, it’ll have to be the United States.

    However, the Pentagon made a significant error in using the words “innocent passage”. It grants legitimacy to China’s claim.

    Further, I really do think America should be concentrating FoN efforts against excessive claims in terms of area, while resolving issues like whether one needs a permit to conduct innocent passage to diplomacy or arbitration. The language in UNCLOS (which the US isn’t even a signatory) is not really as favorable to America’s position as it pretends it is, and really FoN in waters acknowledged as other people’s waters is an abuse of the right of innocent passage.