By Ryan Pickrell
Two U.S. Navy warships conducted a freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea Sunday — a move likely to raise tensions between Washington and Beijing.
The Arleigh Burke-class, guided-missile destroyer USS Higgins and the Ticonderoga-class cruiser USS Antietam sailed within 12 nautical miles of several territories in the Paracel Islands, Reuters reported, citing U.S. officials. President Donald Trump’s administration has conducted more than half a dozen freedom of navigation operations (FONOPS) in the past year and a half — more than the four carried out during Obama’s administration, which was decidedly hesitant to challenge China. (RELATED: White House Kept The Navy From Doing Its Job, Fearing China’s Reaction)
Critics suggest FONOPS have very little impact and are largely for show. Nonetheless, the Navy intends to continue to conduct these operations. “We conduct routine and regular Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs), as we have done in the past and will continue to do in the future,” U.S. Pacific Fleet said in a statement.
An international arbitration tribunal in The Hague discredited China’s vast claims to the South China Sea in the summer of 2016, but Beijing rejected the ruling. China has continued to expand its military presence in the disputed region since then.
“We have strong evidence that China has deployed anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems, and electronic jammers to contested features in the Spratly Islands region of the South China Sea,” Pentagon spokesman Marine Corps Lt. Col. Christopher Logan told The Daily Caller News Foundation in an official statement.
China’s recent decision to land H-6K heavy bombers on Woody Island in the Paracels has raised tensions in the area, Logan also noted.
In response to these actions, the Department of Defense decided to disinvite China from the Rim of the Pacific exercises — the world’s largest multilateral naval drill. (RELATED: US Kicks China Out Of The World’s Largest International Naval Exercise Over Chinese Militarization In The South China Sea)
This action was described as an “initial response,” potentially indicating there is more to come.
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