US 7th Fleet: Nothing China says will deter us

Pia Lee-Brago - The Philippine Star
US 7th Fleet: Nothing China says will deter us
The Carl Vinson sailing at sea.
US Navy photograph

MANILA, Philippines — Despite China’s new notification law, the United States sent a strong message that “nothing China says will deter us,” with the US 7th Fleet conducting on Wednesday freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea and asserting navigational rights and freedoms in the Spratlys.

The United States Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) said the guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold conducted freedom of navigation operations on Sept. 8, days after China imposed a law requiring foreign vessels to give notice before entering waters claimed by Beijing.

Meanwhile, the USS Carl Vinson and its strike group entered the South China Sea to conduct maritime security operations.

The USINDOPACOM said the operation of the USS Benfold is consistent with international law that upheld the rights, freedoms and lawful uses of the sea.

USS Benfold demonstrated that Mischief Reef, a low-tide elevation in its natural state, is not entitled to a territorial sea under international law.

The USINDOPACOM rejected China’s “false” statement on the mission, noting that the USS Benfold conducted free navigation in accordance with international law then continued to conduct normal operations in international waters.

The operation reflects US commitment to uphold freedom of navigation and lawful uses of the sea as a principle.

“The United States will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, as USS Benfold did here. Nothing PRC (People’s Republic of China) says otherwise will deter us,” the USINDOPACOM said in a statement.

On Sept. 1, a Chinese law took effect that requires certain foreign vessels, including nuclear-powered ships, submarines and ships carrying dangerous substances, to notify Chinese authorities before entering areas claimed by China, such as the South China Sea.

The US slammed China’s latest actions aimed at misrepresenting lawful US maritime operations and “assert its excessive and illegitimate maritime claims at the expense of its Southeast Asian neighbors in the South China Sea.”

“The PRC’s behavior stands in contrast to the United States’ adherence to international law and our vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific region. 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,” it added.

On Sept. 8, USS Benfold engaged in “normal operations” within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef. Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), features like Mischief Reef that are submerged at high tide in their naturally formed state are not entitled to a territorial sea.

“The land reclamation efforts, installations and structures built on Mischief Reef do not change this characterization under international law,” USINDOPACOM said.

By conducting operations off Mischief Reef, the US demonstrated that vessels may lawfully exercise high-seas freedoms in those areas.

US forces routinely conduct freedom of navigation throughout the world.

Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group, in the meantime, is operating in the South China Sea for the first time during the group’s 2021 deployment.

While in the South China Sea, the strike group is conducting maritime security operations, which include flight operations with fixed and rotary wing aircraft, maritime strike exercises and coordinated tactical training between surface and air units.

Carrier operations in the South China Sea are part of the US Navy’s routine presence in the Indo-Pacific.

“The freedom of all nations to navigate in international waters is important, and especially vital in the South China Sea, where nearly a third of global maritime trade transits each year,” said Rear Adm. Dan Martin, the strike group’s commander. 

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