A US Navy destroyer conducted a maritime patrol through Da Vanh Khan (Mischief Reef) in the South China Sea (Vietnam calls it the Truong Sa) on September 8, just days after China imposed a law requiring foreign ships to notify before into waters claimed by Beijing.
The guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold “affirmed the right and freedom of navigation” within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef in the Spratlys, according to a US Navy 7th Fleet bulletin. Meanwhile, the USS Carl Vinson and the US strike group are training elsewhere in the region, according to the US Navy.
China has been renovating and building military infrastructure in Spratlys since 2014, according to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative under the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Mischief Reef is an island that China has reclaimed and occupied, but also claims by Vietnam.
The USS Benfold conducted the seventh Navy freedom of navigation operation in the region this year, according to a statement from the US Department of Defense emailed to Stars and Stripes on September 8 and from Lieutenant Mark Langford, spokesman for the 7th Fleet. The last time the United States conducted a freedom of navigation operation in Spratlys was in February 2021.
“The United States challenges excessive maritime claims regardless of the country’s assertions of them,” the statement said.
On September 7, Carl Vinson carrier’s Spokesman Miranda Williams told Stars and Stripes via email that it had organized flight operations and strike drills at sea, and coordinated training between the two surface ships and air units.
“Aircraft carrier activities in the South China Sea are not new or unusual,” Williams wrote. “Our Navy has regularly flown, patrolled and operated throughout the Indo-Pacific region in accordance with international law for more than 75 years and will continue to do so.”
SCMP website quoted a spokesman for the People’s Liberation Army of China (PLA) as saying that the US ship USS Benfold had entered what it called China’s territorial sea near Mischief Reef, in the disputed Spratlys without the approval of the Beijing government.
The PLA “organized air and naval forces to track, monitor, and expel this ship,” said Senior Lieutenant Colonel Tian Jun Li, spokesman for the Southern Regional Command, or called the Southern Region Command of the PLA.
Chinese broadcaster CGTN reported on September 8 that the Chinese military had “chased away a US guided-missile destroyer that entered China’s territorial waters near Spratlys in the South China Sea.”
“The actions of the US side have seriously violated China’s sovereignty and security, which is further evidence of maritime hegemony and militarization in the South China Sea,” said Li.
“China has indisputable sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and adjacent waters. Soldiers in the region are always on high alert, resolutely protecting national sovereignty and security as well as peace and stability in the sea,” Li said.
Spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Vietnam Le Thi Thu Hang at a press conference.
In a statement on September 8, the US Navy’s 7th Fleet said the PLA’s claim about the USS Benfold mission “is untrue.”
“The USS Benfold conducted this freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) in accordance with international law and subsequently continued to conduct normal operations in international waters. This operation reflects our commitment to upholding freedom of navigation and the lawful use of the sea as a principle,” the 7th Fleet said in a statement.
On September 1, a Chinese law went into effect requiring certain foreign ships, including nuclear-powered ships, submarines and ships carrying dangerous substances, to notify Chinese authorities before entering areas claimed by China, including areas such as the South China Sea.
China’s revised Maritime Traffic Safety Law contains a provision that requires foreign ships entering China’s “territorial waters” to report information about their vehicles and cargo to the country’s maritime authorities.
Vietnam has always affirmed that it has sufficient historical evidence and legal basis to assert its sovereignty over the Hoang Sa (Paracels) and the Truong Sa (Spratlys) in accordance with international law.
The Vietnamese side has not yet responded to the US naval ship’s patrol near Mischief Reef this time.
Previously, Vietnamese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Le Thi Thu Hang used to say: “All activities of the parties in Truong Sa and Hoang Sa without Vietnam’s permission are worthless.”