USS Lassen to Sail into Disputed Chinese Islands

USS Lassen to Sail into Disputed Chinese Islands
Photo Credit: Screenshot of Reuters video
What you need to know

The US argues that under international law, building up artificial islands on previously submerged reefs does not entitle a country to make a territorial claim.

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Since 2014, China has begun conducting land reclamation in the Spratly Islands to construct military bases and defense related facilities. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C., recent satellite photos show the construction of the third military-length airstrips by China in the Spratlys, in addition to the two on Mischief and Subi reefs.

John Richardson, US Navy chief of naval operations (CNO), said on October 15 that the US Navy has been preparing for a South China Sea demonstration cruise. According to US defense official, guided-missile destroyer USS Lassen will breach the 12-nautical mile zone China claims around reefs in the Spratly archipelago.

BBC news reports, a US Navy P-8A surveillance plane and a P-3 surveillance plane were expected to accompany the USS Lassen to the Subi and Mischief reefs.

Additional patrols could follow in the coming weeks, the official added.

“This is something that will be a regular occurrence, not a one-off event,” says a US Defense Department spokesman. “It’s not something that’s unique to China.”

According to Reuters, White House spokesman Josh Earnest referred questions on any specific operations to the Pentagon but said the United States had made clear to China the importance of free flow of commerce in the South China Sea.

“There are billions of dollars of commerce that float through that region of the world," Earnest told a news briefing. “Ensuring that free flow of commerce … is critical to the global economy," he said.

If the Lassen approaches the Subi and Mischief reefs by November 1, this will be the first marine time operation following the P-8A surveillance plane above the artificial islands.

The US argues that under international law, building up artificial islands on previously submerged reefs does not entitle a country to make a territorial claim.

According to The Diplomat, given the careful telegraphing of freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs) in the Spratlys over a period of weeks, China has had plenty of time to decide how it will react when the Lassen sails by these reefs. It’s hardly been a month since Chinese President Xi Jinping left Washington D.C. after his inaugural state visit to the United States, but the Obama administration has decided that it’s had enough of “testing the waters” in the South China Sea.

Randy Forbes, chairman of the Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee, said in a statement, “The passage of U.S. vessels within 12 nautical miles of China’s man-made features in the South China Sea is a necessary and overdue response to China’s destabilizing behavior in the region."

Translated and compiled by June
Edited by Olivia Yang

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