7th Fleet Destroyer Conducts Freedom of Navigation Operation in South China Sea > US Indo-Pacific Command > 2015

PARACEL ISLANDS, SOUTH CHINA SEA — The statement of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) about this mission is false. USS Benfold conducted these freedom of navigation operations (FONOP) in accordance with international law and then continued to conduct normal operations in international waters. The operation reflects our commitment to upholding freedom of navigation and the lawful uses of the sea as a principle. The United States upholds the right of every nation to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law permits, as the USS Benfold did here. Nothing the PRC says otherwise will deter us.

The statement by the PLA Southern Theater Command is the latest in a long line of PRC actions aimed at misrepresenting legal US maritime operations and asserting its excessive and illegitimate maritime claims at the expense of its Southeast Asian neighbors. East in the South China Sea. The PRC’s behaviors stand in contrast to the United States’ adherence to international law and our vision of 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 in accordance with accepted international rules and standards.

On July 13 (local time), the USS Benfold (DDG 65) asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the South China Sea near the Paracel Islands, in accordance with international law. At the end of the operation, USS Benfold left the overclaim and continued operations in the South China Sea. This Freedom of Navigation Operation (“FONOP”) upheld the rights, freedoms and lawful uses of the sea recognized under international law by challenging restrictions on innocent passage imposed by the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Taiwan and Vietnam, as well as challenging the PRC’s claim to straight baselines surrounding the Paracel Islands.

The illegal and extensive maritime claims in the South China Sea pose a serious threat to the freedom of the seas, including freedoms of navigation and overflight, free trade and unfettered commerce, and freedom of economic opportunity for nations. bordering the South China Sea.

The United States challenges excessive maritime claims around the world, regardless of the identity of the claimant. The international law of the sea, as embodied in the 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea, guarantees certain rights and freedoms and other lawful uses of the sea to all nations. The international community has an enduring role to play in preserving the freedom of the seas, which is essential to global security, stability and prosperity.

The United States supports freedom of navigation for all nations as a principle. As long as some countries continue to claim and assert limits on rights beyond their authority under international law, the United States will continue to defend the rights and freedoms of the sea guaranteed to all. No member of the international community should be intimidated or forced to give up their rights and freedoms.

The PRC, Taiwan and Vietnam each claim sovereignty over the Paracel Islands. In violation of international law, the three claimants require either permission or prior notification before a military vessel or warship engages in “innocent passage” through the territorial sea. Under international law, as reflected in the Convention on the Law of the Sea, ships of all States, including their warships, enjoy the right of innocent passage through the territorial sea. The unilateral imposition of any prior authorization or notification requirement for innocent passage is illegal. By engaging in innocent passage without giving prior notification or asking permission to any of the claimants, the United States challenged these illegal restrictions imposed by the PRC, Taiwan and Vietnam. The United States has demonstrated that innocent passage is not subject to such restrictions.

The United States also challenged the PRC’s 1996 declaration of straight baselines encompassing the Paracel Islands. Regardless of which claimant holds sovereignty over these islands, it is illegal to draw straight baselines around the Paracel Islands in their entirety. International law, as embodied in the Convention on the Law of the Sea, is both clear and comprehensive regarding the circumstances in which States may deviate from “normal” baselines. The straight baseline claimed by the PRC violates the international law of the sea, as reflected in Article 7 of the Convention on the Law of the Sea. Furthermore, international law does not allow continental states, such as the PRC , to establish baselines around entire scattered island groups. With these baselines, the PRC has attempted to claim more internal waters, territorial sea, exclusive economic zone and continental shelf than it is entitled to under international law. By conducting this operation, the United States has demonstrated that these waters are beyond what the PRC can legally claim as its territorial sea, and that the PRC has asserted that straight baselines around the Paracel Islands are inconsistent with international law.

US forces operate daily in the South China Sea, as they have for more than a century. They regularly operate in close coordination with allies and like-minded partners who share our commitment to maintaining a free and open international order that promotes security and prosperity. All of our operations are conducted safely, professionally and in accordance with international law. The operations demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail, and operate wherever international law permits, regardless of the location of excessive maritime claims and regardless of current events.

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