U.S. destroyer challenges ‘excessive’ sea claims near Panganiban Reef

April 10, 2023 - 2:14 PM
2392
USS Milius
The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Milius (DDG 69) conducts routine underway operations as seen in this April 10, 2023 handout photo. (U.S. Navy 7th Fleet/Released)

MANILA — Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Milius of the United States Navy asserted high-seas rights in the South China Sea on Monday, April 10, 2023 in the vicinity of Mischief (Panganiban) Reef of the Spratly (Kalayaan) Islands.

The latest freedom of navigation operation, or FONOP, in the potential flashpoint, was meant to challenge what the U.S. 7th Fleet calls an “excessive claim area” 12 nautical miles off the reef.

“USS Milius demonstrated that Mischief Reef, a low-tide elevation in it its natural state, is not entitled to a territorial sea under international law,” the fleet said in a news release.

China has continued to assert its nine-dash line doctrine, a sweeping claim over the vital waterway already invalidated under international law. It overlaps with exclusive economic zones of littoral states like the Philippines’ and threatens trade flow amounting to trillions of dollars every year through the waterway.

Beijing has also reclaimed more than 1,300 acres on which it built new structures around Mischief Reef, a low-tide elevation, since 1994.

Mischief Reef
This April 23, 2020 satellite image from the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative is among the latest snapshots of Chinese reclamation on Mischief Reef, which the Philippines calls Panganiban. (AMTI/Maxar/Released)

“Under customary international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention, features like Mischief Reef that are submerged at high tide in their naturally formed state are not entitled to a territorial sea,” the U.S. Navy’s fleet said.

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

2023 FONOPs, so far

Last month, China and the U.S. sparred over the movement of the USS Milius, which China said entered its territorial waters in the South China Sea near the Paracel Islands. It was the U.S. Navy’s first FONOP this year.

USS Milius
The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Milius (DDG 69) conducts routine underway operations as seen in this April 10, 2023 handout photo. (U.S. Navy 7th Fleet/Released)

The U.S., a longtime defense ally of the Philippines, has long held the position that unlawful and excessive claims, especially over the South China Sea, threaten navigational freedoms, free trade and commerce and economic opportunities for neighboring countries.

“No member of the international community should be intimidated or coerced into giving up their rights and freedoms,” the 7th Fleet added.

The U.S., which has conducted FONOPs around the globe for 40 years, employ the tool as a “principal” means to contest excessive claims in the South China Sea, according to Washington-based think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies. — with a report from Reuters