The USS Dewey, a destroyer belonging to the United States Navy, has sailed near to a disputed island in the South China Sea. The fully armed military vessel sailed barely 12 miles distant from Mischief Reef. The island is part of Spratly Island chain. This was the first time that the United States has flexed its military muscles after President Donald Trump assumed office. A US official has described the event as a “freedom of navigation operation”.
The Chinese were quick to react to the May 24 event. The Chinese Defense Ministry announced on May 25 that two Chinese frigates have given a strong warning to USS Dewey after the latter entered Chinese waters without its permission. Ren Guoqiang, the spokesman of the Chinese Defense Ministry, said that Beijing is firmly against such American behavior of exhibiting force and the boosting of regional militarization. He added that the Chinese Government has made its due representations to the Americans.
In response, Captain Jeff Davis the Pentagon Spokesperson, said that the US military operates in Asia Pacific region every day, including in the South China Sea. He, however, declined to conform the details of this specific operation. He insisted that the United States military operates as per international law. The armed forces fly and sail wherever it is allowed by international law.
Disputed claims and freedom of navigation
The South China Sea is an important shipping route. China claims its sovereignty over vast expanse of water. Its claims encompass the disputed Spratly and Paracel island chains. Such Chinese claims are disputed by a number of other neighboring countries like Vietnam and Philippines. To bolster its claims, Beijing has crafted artificial islands in the South China Sea. One such island is located on Mischief Reef itself.
The United States regularly conduct naval operations ensuring freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. This practice continued under President Barack Obama. There were suggestions that President Trump will halt them to stop antagonizing China. It does not mean, analysts say, US policy in South China Sea has changed. Ian Storey, of ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute, Singapore, said that there must be an operation emphasizing freedom of navigation and the action by the US Navy is simply an example. He insisted that Trump is merely taking the Obama policy forward. According to the Pentagon, operations related to freedom of operation does not concern a single country, or one water body.