China Claims It Drove American Ship Out Of Contested Waters—U.S. Calls It ‘Innocent Passage’

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Topline

In the latest sign of escalating tensions in the disputed South China Sea, China claims it launched its navy and air force to “warn away” a U.S. warship out of the area it claims—while the U.S. Navy says the destroyer Hopper passed through the area on a legal operation.

Key Facts

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army claimed Saturday that the Chinese military drove a U.S. Navy ship out of the South China Sea, accusing the U.S. of posing an “out-and-out security risk,” Reuters reported.

The U.S. Navy acknowledged the USS Hopper passed through the territory near the Paracel Islands, but said it was engaging in “innocent passage” through the disputed territory, which is claimed by China, Vietnam and Taiwan, the 7th Fleet Public Affairs said in a statement.

Innocent passage through territorial seas is allowed as long as it is not “prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal State,” according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which governs maritime activity for 168 countries and the European Union.

China, Vietnam and Taiwan each “require either permission or advance notification” before a military vessel passes through the disputed territory, but the U.S. Navy said calls the requirement a violation of international law and does not abide by it.

Big Number

$3 trillion. That’s the value of global commerce that passes through the South China Sea on an annual basis.

Key Background

Saturday’s dispute comes after U.S. and Chinese officials discussed the contested territory in the South China Sea during a meeting in Beijing earlier this month, shortly before President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping met on Nov. 15 in San Francisco for the first time in a year. The talks represent renewed diplomacy between the U.S. and China after relations soured when the U.S. shot down a Chinese spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina in February. China claims, without legal basis, to have jurisdiction over portions of the South China Sea also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. Beijing asserts its dominance over the territory, located more than 1,000 miles from the Chinese mainland, by deploying what it describes as a fleet of fishing boats equipped with high-powered military equipment, to intimidate, and often drive out, other nations’ military vessels. The Philippines and Australia also sent joint sea and air patrols into the South China Sea Saturday as part of an effort to enforce international freedom of navigation laws in the disputed territory.

ReutersChina says Philippines enlists foreign force to stir trouble in South China Sea
ReutersUS airs concerns to China about ‘dangerous and unlawful’ South China Sea actions
NytimesFleets of Force

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