What you need to know
China’s building of artificial islands in the South China Sea has constantly aroused concerns of militarization. Though multiple countries claim partial sovereignty in the area, the US Pentagon sent a navy destroyer to Triton Island on January 30, and stated that the region should be taken as international waters.
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Translated and compiled by Yuan-ling Liang and Olivia Yang
On January 30, a US navy destroyer sent by the Pentagon sailed into the Paracel Islands in response to China’s recent building of artificial islands, Taiwan President Ma’s visit to Itu Aba Island and backlash of other claimants, such as the Philippines and Vietnam, to maintain stability and resolve South China Sea disputes.
The Pentagon announced on January 30 that a US navy destroyer (USS Curtis Wilbur，DDG-54) sailed within 12 nautical of Triton Island, a 1.5 square kilometer island located south of the Paracel Islands and claimed sovereignty by Taiwan, China and Vietnam.
Triton Island, also known as the “Gobi of the South China Sea,” is the third largest island in Paracel Islands. It’s the closest island to Vietnam among the three main South China Sea Islands, holding a critical military position due to its remote location.
In 1946, landing ship, ”Triton,” of the Republic of China navy force claimed the Triton Island. Before the Sino-Vietnamese War in 1974, Triton Island was under Vietnam’s control for nearly 30 years. It didn’t take long for the Chinese to launch a garrison in 1978 after China seized the Paracels from Vietnam.
In 2014, China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), a Chinese energy company, introduced a drilling rig into waters near Triton Island, leading to collisions between Vietnamese and Chinese ships and worsened relationship between the two countries.
Earlier on January 19 this year, Vietnam also asked China to withdraw the drilling rig out of the disputed area.
China’s building artificial islands in South China Sea disputed area has aroused concerns of militarization; however, China keeps stressing their actions bear peaceful intentions. The US especially opposes China’s act on expanding small atolls into larger islands, which construct military-scale airstrips that allow fighters to land and warships to lie at anchor.
In 1979, the US drafted the Freedom of Navigation Program, acquiescing no nations around the globe to state excessive claims. Bill Urban, spokesperson of the Pentagon, states that the US will not be partial to either side. What the US cares about is the freedom of navigation and will encourage countries to abide by the international law.
China, Taiwan and Vietnam all emphasize that foreign ships should notify them for permission when passing through the area for all three countries claim sovereignty over Triton Island. Wilbur’s freedom of navigation operation challenges the three claimants’ intention to limit rights of navigation in the high seas.
Looking at international law, if recognition of sovereignty on the sea exists, the passage of foreign warships is called, “innocent passage;" if this recognition doesn’t exist, the passage is called, “freedom of navigation."
US Department of Defense spokesperson Captain Jeff Davis says this trip is safeguarding the freedom of navigation, which means the US doesn’t recognize China’s sovereignty over the Paracel Islands. The US approach reflects the country’s consistent stance of even though the area holds a vital position, it should be taken as international waters.
The South China Sea is abundant with natural resources and has strategic importance. In addition to Taiwan, China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei all claim to have partial sovereignty over the region. However, the US believes all countries have the right to pass through the waters.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of National Defense of China have expressed dissatisfaction regarding the US approach. The Ministry of National Defense points out the US is breaking the law and undermining peace over the waters. The Chinese army will take all necessary measures to protect the country’s sovereignty and safety no matter what proactive actions the US takes.
People.cn comments, the possible reason the US deliberately entered the area is to grow closer to Vietnam and Taiwan. It says a change of government has just occurred in Vietnam and elections are over in Taiwan, so the US’s intentions are very obvious.
On January 29, US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip S. Goldberg said in a television interview that the US-Philippines Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) isn’t directly related to the South China Sea dispute. The US military will not use the agreement to establish new military bases in the Philippines and their facilities will only be established in existing camps.
Goldberg also emphasized that the US strongly opposes Taiwan President Ma’s visit to Itu Aba Island in the South China Sea. He says the visit isn’t a positive development and will only worsen the situation.
Edited by Olivia Yang