A U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer sailed into waters near Subi Reef, an island China created in the South China Sea, on Tuesday morning, local time. The patrol’s purpose, according to State Department spokesman John Kirby, was to assert “the right of freedom of navigation in international waters.”
The move has triggered a diplomatic and military backlash by China. A Chinese destroyer and patrol ship shadowed the USS Lassen as it sailed within 12 miles of the island, the territorial limit China claims under international law. China’s Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui chided U.S. Ambassador Max Baucus that the patrol was “extremely irresponsible” and “illegal”. China’s defense ministry stated further that it was a “coercive action that seeks to militarize the South China Sea region,” and that “China will absolutely respond to any country’s deliberate provocations.”
U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby downplayed the incident. “Setting this aside, the U.S. -China relationship is vitally important and one we want to see continue to improve and to grow for the benefit of both our countries, not to mention the region.”
A U.S. defense official, as first reported by Reuters, said the Lassen also passed near similar islands built by Vietnam and the Philippines in the same Spratly Island chain. Ownership of the sea is also disputed by Taiwan, Brunei, and Malaysia. The official said the U.S. plans to step up “freedom-of-navigation” patrols
This is the first time the U.S. has entered waters near any of China’s artificial islands. Neither government has revealed the exact path of the Lassen as it passed through disputed waters.
Tensions have been growing between the two powers since China began reclaiming three main islands out of submerged reefs 18 months ago. The U.S. has demanded that China end the project immediately. A U.S. surveillance plane flew over the disputed islands in May, prompting eight warnings from the Chinese navy.
The U.S. government and its regional allies, including Japan and the Philippines, are concerned China will use the islands to interfere with trade or project military force. According to former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell, Chinese designs in the region create “a real risk…for something bad happening.” China insists its intentions are peaceful – promoting tourism, expanding trade, claiming potential oil rights.
I am a beat reporter here at The Daily Voice, and a writer and editor for DailyTwoCents.com and Writedge.com. My interests are wide ranging outside of the virtual newsroom, yet here I mainly focus on serious world news and commentary. I graduated from the University of Washington with a B.A. in history.