U.S. Destroyers Patrol Close To Contentious Chinese-Held Islands

US naval officials confirmed that US destroyers have been patrolling close to Chinese-held islands and reefs in the hotly contested South China Sea these past few weeks – acts that are likely to further tensions ahead of the upcoming ruling regarding Beijing’s maritime claims, Reuters reports.

The destroyers Spruance, Momsen and Stethem have been sailing close to islands controlled by the Chinese in the Spratlys archipelago and the Scarborough Shoal, both of which are close to the Philippines, the naval officials said. The patrols were first reported by The Navy Times news.

Increasing pressure has been felt in the region as July 12 nears –the day when an arbitration court hearing the dispute between the Philippines and China over territories in the South China Sea is to be resolved in The Hague, Netherlands.

China has refused to take part in the case and promised to ignore all rulings that may come down, rulings that the USA says are mandatory and an important test of China’s readiness to adhere to international law.

The destroyers, while not closing the 12 nautical mile distance that would require high-level approval and violate supposed freedom of navigation, have been operating within 14 to 20 nautical miles of the Chinese-occupied reefs and islands.

The USS Ronald Reagan and its contingent have also been sailing the South China Sea since last week.

Pacific Fleet spokeperson Lieutenant Clint Ramsden said that these activities were part of a “routine presence,” and that he could not further elaborate. He did say, “All of these patrols are conducted in accordance with international law and all are consistent with routine Pacific Fleet presence throughout the Western Pacific.”

US naval officials said Chinese military ships and some fishing vessels often track the activity of US ships in the area, but there has been no reaction to the destroyers’ operations.

Manila is contending the legality of Beijing’s actions and claims in the South China Sea, in the first legal case that has involved the territory. Legal experts believe the ruling will go in the Philippines’ favor, as US and other naval officials in the region brace for more tension following the ruling.


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