An American warship was joined by several Asian allies for a week of drills designed to underscore America’s commitment to free navigation of the South China Sea.
The guided missile destroyer USS William P. Lawrence was joined in the week-long drills by a Japanese aircraft carrier, a Philippine patrol boat and a destroyer and tanker from India, Reuters reported. The drills ended Wednesday.
China claims extensive rights to the South China Sea. Its claims are challenged by multiple nations including Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
“Our team was really excited to take part in this multilateral event,” Cmdr. Andrew Klug, commanding officer of the American ship, said in a statement, USNI News reported.
“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,” he said.
#SouthChinaSea ; Excellent news. We must continue to exercise our Freedom of Navigation Rights with every ally, ASEAN nation & country in the World. These waters do not belong to China but instead the aforementioned. This is the way to demonstrate it. https://t.co/12rKBpkpOC
— Michael Eichert (@michaeleichert) May 9, 2019
— EconomicTimes (@EconomicTimes) May 9, 2019
The multi-nation drills follow a Monday episode in which two U.S. guided-missile destroyers, the USS Preble and USS Chung-Hoon, sailed near two South China Sea islands claimed by China, CNN reported.
The ships “sailed within 12 nautical miles of the Gaven and Johnson Reefs in order to challenge excessive maritime claims and preserve access to the waterways as governed by international law,” Navy Cmdr. Clay Doss, a 7th Fleet spokesman, said.
Geng Shuang, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, deplored Monday’s episode, saying the American ships “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.
Doss said the U.S. was simply asserted the freedom of navigation.
“All operations are designed in accordance with international law and demonstrate 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,” he said, according to ABC News.
Doss added that such operations are “not about any one country, nor are they about making political statements.”
The Pentagon recently released a report voicing its concerns of China’s military expansion in the region.
“In the South China Sea, China has continued militarization. Anti-ship cruise missiles and long-range surface-to-air missiles have been deployed to Spratly Islands outposts,” the report said.
Missiles China based in the Spratly Islands in 2018 are the “most capable land-based weapons systems deployed by China in the disputed South China Sea,” the report said.
China is flexing its muscles all over the globe, according to report, as quoted by the Navy Times.
“Over the coming decades, they are focused on realizing a powerful and prosperous China that is equipped with a ‘world-class’ military, securing China’s status as a great power with the aim of emerging as the pre-eminent power in the Indo-Pacific region,” the report said.
Noting that China will deploy its first aircraft carrier in the coming year, the report said China’s navy “continues to develop into a global force, gradually extending its operational reach beyond East Asia into a sustained ability to operate at increasingly longer ranges.”
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