U.S. navy warship, USS William P. Lawrence, a guided-missile destroyer, conducted the freedom of navigation operation passing within 12 nautical miles of Chinese-occupied Fiery Cross Reef on Tuesday. This is a warning to China due to the territorial claims in the region by Beijing. Defense Department spokesman Bill Urban said the freedom of navigation operation is to “Challenge excessive maritime claims of some claimants in the South China Sea.” It is uncertain whether did Chinese military or civilian officials tried to make contact with the ship.
This is the third time the U.S. has conducted freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea. Fiery Cross Reef, China’s disputed reef, has a 3,000 meter runway and concerns are raised regarding the militarization of the reef. China claims that no plans of militarizing the Spratly Islands. Nonetheless, a civilian jet and military aircraft landed on Fiery Cross Reef. It is said that China is also looking into Scarborough Shoal which is in the Spratlys within Philippines.
Lu Kang, ministry spokesman, mentioned the ship illegally entered the waters without China’s permission and that the move threatened peace and stability. Washington is concerned that China will extend its territorial claims at the expense of weaker rivals. Daniel Russel, the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific, said “If the world’s powerful navy cannot sail where international law permits, then what happens to the ships of navy of smaller countries?”
Rodrigo Duterte who most likely will claim the presidency in Philippines has proposed multilateral talks with the U.S., Japan, and Australia as well as claimant nations – the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan and China on the South China Sea issue.