MANILA, Philippines – Saying it is not about any particular country or about making a political statement, the United States has stressed that it will invoke freedom of navigation and challenge excessive maritime claims anywhere in the globe.
In a recent press briefing in Washington, US State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said US forces operate in the Asia-Pacific region, including the South China Sea, on a daily basis under a comprehensive freedom of navigation program (FONOP).
She explained that the operations, conducted in accordance with international law, are meant to demonstrate that the US will continue to fly, sail and operate “wherever international law allows.”
“It’s true in the South China Sea; it’s true in other places around the world as well,” Nauert said.
A US Navy destroyer carried out a “freedom of navigation operation” on Thursday, coming within 12 nautical miles of an
artificial island built up by China in the South China Sea.
The USS John S. McCain traveled close to Mischief or Panganiban Reef in the Spratly Islands, among a string of islets, reefs and shoals.
Slamming the FONOP, the Chinese armed forces immediately sent naval ships to identify and verify the US warship and warned it to leave.
The United Nations-backed Permanent Arbitration Court in The Hague had awarded the Philippines “sovereign rights” over Panganiban Reef off Palawan, based on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The court ruling last year also invalidated China’s entire “nine-dash-line” claims over nearly all of the South China Sea. Beijing has ignored the ruling despite having ratified UNCLOS.
“We have a comprehensive freedom of navigation operations program, under which the US forces challenge excessive maritime claims around the globe to demonstrate our commitment to uphold the rights, freedoms and uses of the sea and airspace guaranteed to all nations under international law. All nations —that is guaranteed to the United States and to other nations, as well,” Nauert added.
The FONOP, she said, is not about any one country and is not about making a political statement.
Last year, the US conducted these challenging excessive maritime claims in 22 different coastal states, including claims of allies and partners.
“The United States does these operations – the freedom of navigation operations – all around the world, many times of year,” Nauert said. “But this is nothing new. We’ve done it before; we’ll continue to do that.”
The US acknowledged on Thursday that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was under “tremendous” pressure on the South China Sea issues during the meetings in Manila last week but the regional bloc still “held on to its principles,” defeating attempts to drop “militarization,” “self-restraint” and “land reclamation” from the joint communiqué at the end of the milestone gathering.