A U.S. Navy destroyer carried out a “freedom of navigation” operation on Friday, coming within 12 nautical miles of one of China’s artificial islands, according to an exclusive Reuters report.
Speaking to Reuters on the condition of anonymity, U.S. officials said the destroyer Mustin traveled close to Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands and carried out maneuvering operations. Washington’s intention was to counter what it sees as China’s attempts to limit the freedom of navigation in the strategically located waters.
The navigation reportedly infuriated Beijing, which still has territorial disputes with its neighbors. As Reuters highlighted, 12 nautical miles is an internationally recognized territorial limit and fits a recent pattern of U.S. navigational behavior. However, it is highly likely that the U.S. purposely brought the ship as close as possible, as it has become increasingly concerned that China’s build-up in the area will eventually drive the U.S. out and make its so-called free nautical movement non-existent.
According to Reuters, the U.S. military believes its activities are carried out under international law and relies on the fact that American forces regularly operate in the region.
“We conduct routine and regular freedom of navigation operations, as we have done in the past and will continue to do in the future,” Lieutenant Commander Nicole Schwegman, a spokesperson for the U.S. Pacific Fleet, said, as quoted by Reuters.
China’s response to this latest move was to send two naval ships of its own to identify the ships and warn the destroyer to leave. In turn, China has vowed to accelerate its plans for the region in order to combat the American presence.
“The provocative behaviour by the U.S. side will only cause the Chinese military to further strengthen building up defense abilities in all areas,” a Chinese Defense Ministry statement read.
Its navy will also carry out combat drills in the South China Sea, calling the development part of regular annual exercises.
This is not the first time this year Washington has sent a warship to the area, rattling China in the process. In January, China vowed to take “necessary measures” to protect its sovereignty after the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Hopper came within 12 nautical miles of Huangyuan Island, which is subject to a rival claim by the Philippines.
This latest operation occurred just one day after Donald Trump signed a presidential memorandum that will target $60 billion in Chinese goods with tariffs following a 30-day consultation period that will begin once the list of targeted Chinese goods is published. China already warned against this provocative move, urging the U.S. to step away from what it termed as “the brink.”
The move also follows the revelation that the Trump administration signed the Taiwan Travel Act into law. The bill calls for increased high-level visits to Taiwan by U.S. civilian and military leaders. Just last week, Anti-Media released a report predicting that the situation would quietly start to escalate with little more than a blink from the media, which is busy debating gun control, Facebook’s much-needed scrutiny, and anything else that doesn’t involve a potential nuclear holocaust.
In early February, President Trump said he planned to nominate Admiral Harry B. Harris Jr., the commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, as ambassador to Australia. Not long after, Harris was quick to advise Congress to prepare for a war with China in the South China Sea.
Australia has recently been caught in a war of words of its own with China and had plans to send a British warship into the South China Sea earlier this month, as well.
It might sound simplistic, but Washington’s concern with the area and rationale for risking an all-out confrontation is about one thing: money. China’s use of the South China sea attracts approximately $5 trillion in ship-borne trade every year, according to Reuters.
All that is preventing China from injecting itself into the rest of the global market eastward through the Pacific Ocean is a chain of islands known as the”first island chain,” an island chain that includes the Kuril Islands of Russia, the Japanese archipelago, Taiwan, the northern Philippines, and Borneo. America has blocked China through its control of these islands and with the help of its allies on the ground, but this has recently started to change.
Since August last year, China has had an incursion of its own into the area, flying bombers and intelligence aircraft near these southern outlying islands of Japan. Russia, a stalwart ally of China, is also looking to build a naval base in the area even though control of the islands in question continues to be a point of dispute between Japan and Russia. It seems likely that Russia’s military presence will only aid China’s regional ambitions — as opposed to presenting a buffer to it — as the two nuclear powers often view U.S. hegemony through the same lens. Further complicating this issue, in February of this year, 2,000 Russian troops held military exercises on the Southern Kurils, irking Japan in the process.
Clearly, things are building up for a reason, though one would be hard-pressed to find any mainstream media outlet that pays this story the amount of coverage it deserves.