Washington: US missile destroyer entered the South China Sea near the Spratly (Nansha) Islands in order to “assert navigational rights and freedoms,” U.S. 7th Fleet said on Monday.
“On April 10, the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Milius (DDG 69) asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the South China Sea near the Spratly Islands, consistent with international law,” the statement said.
For more than a century, US forces have been operating in the South China Sea “on a daily basis,” the statement added.
In March, USS Milius entered the South China Sea near the Paracel Islands, which China sees as its territory. Beijing condemned the actions of the United States, saying the US destroyer “illegally entered” the area “without Chinese government’s permission … undermining the peace and stability in the South China Sea.”
The territorial affiliation of a number of islands in the South China Sea has been a subject of disputes between China and some countries of the Asia-Pacific Region for decades. Significant oil and gas reserves have been discovered on the continental shelf of those islands, which are, first of all, the Paracel Islands, the Spratly Islands, the Thitu Island and Scarborough Shoal. Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and the Philippines are to some extent involved in the disputes.
The situation is complicated by the passage of the US warships in the region, which is criticized by the Chinese Foreign Ministry as a violation of international law, however, the US has repeatedly said its navy will stay present in the area.
In July 2016, following a lawsuit filed by the Philippines, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled that China had no grounds for territorial claims in the South China Sea. Beijing, in turn, said that it did not consider the decision of the court valid and did not recognize it.