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South China Sea: US ship sails by Spratly Islands

February 18, 2021 | 11:35

A US Navy warship sailed by Spratly Islands on February 17 in a freedom of navigation operation, marking the latest move by Washington to challenge Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea (Bien Dong Sea).

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USS Russell (DDG 59) operates in the South China Sea, Feb. 17. Photo: US Navy

The US Navy’s 7th Fleet said destroyer USS Russell “asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the Spratly Islands, consistent with international law.”

Unlawful and sweeping maritime claims in the South China Sea pose a serious threat to the freedom of the sea, including freedom of navigation and overflight, free trade and unimpeded commerce, and freedom of economic opportunity for the South China Sea littoral nations,” it said.

China’s extensive territorial claims in the resource-rich waters have become a hot-button issue in an increasingly testy China-US relationship. The two countries are at odds over trade, the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and accusations of human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims, according to Reuters.

Washington has denounced what it called Beijing’s attempts to bully neighbors with competing interests. China has repeatedly denounced what it called US efforts to foment unrest in the region and interfere in what it regards as its internal affairs.

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Sailors stand watch at the helm on the bridge aboard USS Russell (DDG 59), Feb. 17. Photo: US Navy

The US Navy said US forces operated in the South China Sea on a daily basis, and in close coordination with allies and partners to uphold a free and open international order.

All of our operations are designed to be conducted professionally and in accordance with international law and demonstrate that the US will fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows – regardless of the location of excessive maritime claims and regardless of current events,” the Seventh Fleet said.

Early this month, the destroyer USS John S. McCain transited the Taiwan Strait and patrolled close to the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.

USS Theodore Roosevelt and USS Nimitz followed with an operation in the South China Sea last week, the second joint operation by two American aircraft carrier strike groups in the waters in seven months.

Some European countries have also increased their presence in the waters to push back at Beijing’s activities in the region, South China Morning Post said.

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The Royal Navy plans to send the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier through the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait to the East China Sea. Photo courtesy of the Royal Navy

The French attack nuclear submarine Emeraude and a naval support ship patrolled the region earlier this week, and the Royal Navy plans to send the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier through the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait to the East China Sea.

Germany has also said it will send a frigate to patrol the Indo-Pacific this year.

China seized the Paracel Islands from South Vietnam by force in 1974 and has been illegally occupying a number of reefs in the Spratly Islands since 1988, according to VnExpress.

Vietnam has repeatedly affirmed that it has a full legal basis and historical evidence to assert its sovereignty over the Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) islands in the South China Sea in accordance with international law./.

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Rosy Huong