Geopolitics is a tricky business, and right now, one of the trickiest regions happens to be in the waters of the South China Sea. Aside from deeply rooted rivalries between countries, the region is home to the People's Republic of China, which has been trying to stake its claim to the waters in a rather fascinating way.
In the Spratly Islands, the PRC has taken to constructing man-made islands over some of the coral reefs, and going as far as installing runways to assert its dominance over the region. This has not sat well with other countries in the region, such as Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, and the Philippines, or the United States for that matter. So as the US prepares to host Chinese naval vessels in Florida and US officers tour the People's Liberation Army-Navy's carrier Liaoning, the American Navy is making a pretty serious show of force by sailing a guided-missile destroyer within just 12 nautical miles of the Chinese claim.
It's being called a "freedom-of-navigation" exercise, and according to Navy Times, has been a long time coming. It was believed that the Navy's failure to sail near the islands would legitimize the PRC's claim.
"The passage of U.S. vessels within 12 nautical miles of China's man-made features in the South China Sea is a necessary and overdue response to China's destabilizing behavior in the region," Rep. Randy Forbes, a Virginia republican, told Navy Times. "International law is clear that China has no legitimate claim to sovereignty over these waters, and it is high time that this administration reaffirmed America's enduring commitment to freedom of navigation and the maintenance of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region."
The patrol took place late Monday evening, by the destroyer Lassen (shown above). The ship was shadowed by a Chinese patrol boat most of the way, Navy Times reports. Meanwhile, the USN is denying any provocative action.
"I think that we have to continue to proceed in accordance with international norms," Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John M. Richardson told NT. "[This is] part of routine navigation in international waters, consistent with international rules there: I don't see how these could be interpreted as provocative in any way."