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Analyst: US South China Sea operation a sign of support to Philippines

In this Nov. 9, 2014 photo, sailors aboard the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey (DDG 105) man the rails as the ship transits the Red Sea during the International Mine Countermeasures Exercise. The Dewey recently sailed near Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands, challenging China's claim in the region. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class James Vazquez/Released

MANILA, Philippines — The move of the US Navy to sail near Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands shows Washington's support for the Philippines' claims over the South China Sea.

US officials earlier confirmed that guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey sailed within six nautical miles of Mischief Reef, one of China's artificial islands in the disputed waters.

Beijing has protested US Navy's freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) in the region and had sought an explanation with US officials over the incident.

READ: Challenging China, US launches first South China Sea operation under Trump

Jeffrey Kline, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, said that the areas that China are excessively claiming are rightfully part of the Philippines according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

"The selection of Mischief Reef itself is clear in the sense that, in my view, we're supporting the Philippines claim here and we're also selecting what is clearly not a legal claim or a type of supportive claim by China," Kline said in an interview with ANC on Friday.

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On July 2016, the United Nations-backed arbitral tribunal based in The Hague, Netherlands issued a ruling invalidating China's excessive claims over the disputed South China Sea.

The Duterte administration set aside the ruling and opted to hold bilateral consultations with China to settle the maritime dispute.

The Philippines, as chair of the ASEAN this year, is also pushing for a framework on a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea with the 10-member regional bloc and Beijing. The consultations on the framework is expected to be completed by midyear.

Challenging China's claims

Kline noted that the efforts of the US Navy to conduct FONOPs in the region might even inspire concerned parties to finish the code of conduct. FONOPs in the region might even inspire concerned parties to finish the code of conduct.

"We had very similar code of conduct with Russians during the Cold War. I think that increasing, at least making known the United States' desire to continue the legal precedence of international rights of exercising military drills in the South China Sea and anywhere there's international waters is important and that might inspire stronger discussions between China and the United States," the professor said.

The professor, however, urged Washington to call upon all nations to continue to challenge China's claims in the contested waters.

Kline suggested that US Defense Secretary James Mattis should make this call once he talks to delegates in the Shangri-La Dialogue or the Asia Security Summit in Singapore next week.

"As your country knows better than anyone, the South China Sea is both an economic boon for all the countries that surround the area, boon for fisheries and for international trade and shipping," Kline said.

"Therefore everyone who's in the area has a stake at this and everyone should in fact continue to challenge China's claims. If not, then by simply ignoring the fact that they are making excessive claims, we're reinforcing them," he added.

On the other hand, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said that USS Dewey had "trespassed" near islands where Beijing has "indisputable sovereignty."

"We urge the U.S. to correct this mistake and stop taking further actions so as to avoid hurting peace and security in the region and long-term cooperation between the two countries," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said in a press briefing.

READ: Beijing protests US Navy patrol through South China Sea

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