Navy Rejects China’s Condemnation Of US Navigation Exercise Near Disputed Territory

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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In a rare statement, the U.S. Navy singled out China’s territorial claims to disputed islands and rebuked the communist nation’s protests against a U.S. naval transit in the South China Sea Tuesday.

The U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet conducts Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs) in the South China Sea just a few times each year in a show of force against China’s territorial claims, but the latest FONOP on Nov. 29 generated pointed rhetoric condemning the threat China poses to maritime transit routes and the sovereignty of nearby island nations, the statement showed. The fleet called China’s objections to the FONOP “the latest in a long string of actions to misrepresent lawful U.S. maritime operations and assert its excessive and illegitimate maritime claims.”

“The operation reflects our continued commitment to uphold freedom of navigation and lawful uses of the sea as a principle,” the fleet said, emphasizing that its commitments to free and open access to international waters extend to all corners of the world, not only in waters near China. (RELATED: US Should Break Dependence On China And Prepare For Conflict, Congress’ China Watcher Says)

“Nothing the PRC says otherwise will deter us,” the Navy continued, using China’s official name, the People’s Republic of China.

The USS Chancellorsville transited near the Spratly Islands, located on a strategic shipping route between Vietnam and the Philippines in Tuesday’s FONOP, the statement said.

China called the movement illegal and claimed to mobilize naval and aerial assets to fend off U.S. naval forces, according to The Associated Press.

“The U.S. military’s actions have seriously violated China’s sovereignty and security, which is further ironclad evidence of its pursuit of navigational hegemony and militarization of the South China Sea,” spokesperson for China’s Southern Theater Command, Air Force Col. Tian Junli, apparently said, according to the AP.

Tian reiterated Beijing’s view that it has an “indisputable” claim to the South China Sea, the AP reported.

“The PRC’s behaviors stands in contrast to the United States’ adherence to international law and our vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region,” the Navy said. “All nations, large and small, should be secure in their sovereignty, free from coercion, and able to pursue economic growth consistent with accepted international rules and norms.”

The 7th Fleet last conducted a FONOP in July, deploying the USS Benfold near the Spratly Islands, according to a statement. Afterward, the Navy issued a statement on the event condemning the PRC, Vietnam and Taiwan for violating rights of innocent passage, but did not single out the PRC.

China also spoke out against a FONOP in January.

“The PRC’s statement about this mission is false,” the Navy said, again calling out China for allegedly attempting to “misrepresent” U.S. actions.

The U.S. does not lay claim to the disputed waterway near the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei, and which accounts for $5 trillion in global trade, the AP reported. However, U.S. leaders believe ensuring China does not infringe on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, of which China and the U.S. are both signatories, is in America’s interests.

The Chinese Embassy and the U.S. Navy did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

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