The guided-missile destroyer Russell completed a freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea by the Spratly Islands on Wednesday.
China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines claim either all or some sovereignty of the Spratly Islands — and China, Vietnam and Taiwan all demand those participating in “innocent passage” through the territorial sea receive approval or provide advance notification beforehand.
But the 7th Fleet asserts that prior notification or approval violates international law, in accordance with the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention that permits vessels from any state to partake in innocent passage through the territorial sea.“Unlawful and sweeping maritime claims in the South China Sea pose a serious threat to the freedom of the sea, including freedoms of navigation and overflight, free trade and unimpeded commerce, and freedom of economic opportunity for South China Sea littoral nations,” the 7th Fleet said in a news release.
“By engaging in innocent passage without giving prior notification to or asking permission from any of the claimants, the United States challenged these unlawful restrictions imposed by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam. The United States demonstrated that innocent passage may not be subject to such restrictions,” the 7th Fleet said.