During the past week, three U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyers were active in the South China Sea in two separate operations intended to support unfettered access to the region’s shipping lanes.
USS William P. Lawrence (DDG-110) joined an international maritime group operating in the South China Sea for the past week, according to the service.
William P. Lawrence joined Indian Navy destroyer INS Kolkata (D-63) and tanker INS Shakti (A-57), Japan’s helicopter-carrier JS Izumo (DDH-183) and destroyer JS Murasame (DD-101), and the Philippine navy’s patrol ship BRP Andres Bonifacio (PS-17) for the week-long formation exercises, communication drills, passenger transfers and leadership exchanges.
“Our team was really excited to take part in this multilateral event,” Cmdr. Andrew Klug, commanding officer of Lawrence, said in a statement. “Professional engagements with our allies, partners and friends in the region are opportunities to build upon our existing, strong relationships, as well as learn from each other.”
Geng Shuang, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, was not aware of the multi-nation group’s activities, he said during a Thursday media briefing.
He did say, “I’d like to emphasize that as a principle, relevant countries’ policies on and actions in a region should be serving, instead of undermining, the region’s peace, stability and development.”
Earlier in the week, USS Preble (DDG-88) and USS Chung-Hoon (DDG-93) steamed within 12 nautical miles of the Gaven and Johnson Reefs on Monday, according to several media reports including CNN. U.S. 7th Fleet did not respond to USNI News requests for more information about the Preble and Chung-Hoon’s operation.
In February, Preble conducted a freedom of navigation operation past Mischief Reef, an artificial island China created in the Spratly Island chain.
The land masses are part of the Spratly Island chain, which China claims in an attempt to extend its territorial claims into the China Sea. In some cases, China has built artificial islands in the chain which are not recognized as by international law. In other cases, China’s claims to islands in the region conflict with territorial claims of other nations, according to the CIA World Factbook. China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines all claim at least a portion of the island chain, and access to the rich fishing grounds along with potential mineral rights.
During a Monday press briefing, when asked about the Preble and Chung-Hoon operation, Geng was direct in expressing his government’s displeasure with their course.
“On May 6, USS Preble and Chung-Hoon trespassed in the adjacent waters of Nanxun Jiao (Gaven Reef) and Chigua Jiao (Johnson Reef) of China’s Nansha Islands (Spratly Islands) without permission from the Chinese government. The Chinese Navy identified and verified the U.S. warships according to law and warned them off. The trespass of U.S. warships is a violation of China’s sovereignty. It undermines peace, security and good order in the relevant waters. China deplores and firmly opposes such moves,” Geng said during a Monday press briefing, according to the ministry’s official English language translation of the briefing’s transcript.
“With the concerted efforts of China and ASEAN states, the situation in the South China Sea is steadily improving. China urges the U.S. to stop such provocations, respect China’s sovereignty and security interests and regional countries’ efforts to safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea. China will continue to take all necessary measures to defend national sovereignty and security, and safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea,” Geng said.