U.S. Navy ship asserts international navigation, angering China

The USS Barry challenged restrictions on rights of innocent passage, drawing rebuke from Beijing

Updated: April 28, 2020 - 4:26pm

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A U.S. Navy guided missile destroyer sailed through international waters Tuesday in the South China Sea to challenge unlawful restrictions imposed by China, Taiwan and Vietnam, the Navy told Just the News.

“On  April 28, the guided-missile destroyer USS Barry asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the Paracel Islands, consistent with international law,” Lt. j.g. Rachel McMarr, a Pacific Fleet spokesperson, wrote in an email. “This freedom of navigation operation upheld the rights, freedoms and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law by challenging the restrictions on innocent passage imposed by China, Taiwan and Vietnam and also by challenging China’s claim to straight baselines enclosing the Paracel Islands.”

The transit drew swift rebuke from Beijing, which accused the United States of "provocative acts," and of trespassing into Chinese territorial waters.

Three nations – China, Taiwan and Vietnam – each claim sovereignty over the Paracel Islands, an archipelago in the South China Sea. Since the mid-1980’s, U.S. intelligence analysts have said that the islands could serve as the locus of conflict involving the People’s Republic of China.

In recent years, the three nations that claim the islands increasingly have tried to impose restrictions on how others can transit surrounding waters.

“All three claimants require either permission or advance notification before a military vessel or warship engages in ‘innocent passage’ through the territorial sea,” McMarr wrote.

But she said such restrictions are not permitted under international law, citing the Law of the Sea Convention.  

The United States, therefore, challenged the requirements.

“By engaging in innocent passage without giving prior notification to or asking permission from any of the claimants, the United States challenged the unlawful restrictions imposed by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam,” McMarr also wrote. “The United States demonstrated that innocent passage may not be subject to such restrictions.”

The U.S. will continue to navigate the South China Sea in international waters, she indicated. “No member of the international community should be intimidated or coerced into giving up their rights and freedoms."

Beijing on Tuesday charged that the USS Barry violated Chinese sovereignty and security, and that its actions in some way were "incompatible" with international efforts to contain COVID-19.

“China urges the United States to focus on its own business with pandemic prevention and control, make more contributions to the global fight against the COVID-19, and immediately stop military operations that are detrimental to regional security, peace and stability,” said Senior Colonel Li Huamin in a statement. 

The People’s Liberation Army claimed to have sent ships and aircraft to warn off the USS Barry, but did not publish photographs to document the claims. 

The USS Barry has been deployed to the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations throughout the Indo-Pacific region, according to the U.S. Navy.