US Destroyer Conducts FONOP in Bien Dong Sea

The United States Navy conducted its first freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) under the new Biden administration on February 5.
February 06, 2021 | 15:25
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US destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56). (Photo: Vietnamnet)

US' first FONOP under Biden administration

According to a U.S. 7th Fleet Public Affairs release, the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain carried out a FONOP near the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea in order to uphold the right of innocent passage, including for naval vessels, in face of restrictions imposed by China.

It’s the first FONOP in the Biden administration carrying out near Vietnam's Hoang Sa (Paracel) archipelagos., said Reuters.

The Bien Dong Sea has long been one of the tension issues in US-China relations.

However, the US Navy frankly denied the allegations and reaffirmed that its warships are carrying out regular FONOP missions, in accordance with international law, especially the 1982 UNCLOS.

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USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) transits through the South China Sea on Feb. 5, 2021. (Photo: US Navy)

US' call for freedom of navigation

A day after transiting the Taiwan Strait, a U.S. guided-missile destroyer conducted a freedom of navigation operation in the Paracel Island chain in the South China Sea, U.S. 7th Fleet announced on Friday. USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) passed through the Paracel Island chain, conducting an innocent passage past the islands.

The FONOP and the strait transit follow a late New Year’s Eve passage by McCain and destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG-54), as well as several U.S. freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea in December. According to a database maintained by S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies maritime researcher Collin Koh, between October and December last year, the McCain had carried out four FONOPs in the South China Sea, two of which were also in the vicinity of the Paracel Islands, said The Diplomat.

In the run-up to the inauguration of Joe Biden as president of the United States last month, analysts – not the least, in Asia – had widely speculated that he might adopt a more conciliatory tone toward China, and trade a robust American position on Chinese territorial revisionism in the South China Sea and elsewhere for cooperation on climate change and other global governance issues. The February 5 FONOP by McCain forms the first concrete data point in indicating that Biden’s South China Sea policy is likely to be substantively similar to his predecessor’s.

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Transits through the South China Sea while conducting routine underway operations. (Photo: MC2 Markus Castaneda)

Other countries express concern about Bien Dong Sea issue

In a related development, the foreign and defense ministers of the United Kingdom and Japan released a joint statement on Feb. 3 after an online conversation, expressing deep concern about the issue of the Bien Dong Sea. "The four ministers reaffirmed the importance of upholding freedom of navigation and overflight above the South China Sea and urged all parties to exercise self-restraint and refrain from activities likely to raise tensions," the statement said.

The Japanese side welcomed the UK's decision to send the HMS Queen Elizabeth warships strike group to the Indo-Pacific in early spring this year to demonstrate London's greater commitment to the region. Japanese and British ministers have also voiced concerns about China's new maritime law, which allows its Coast Guard to open fire on foreign ships in disputed waters.

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