Q: Spokesperson of the US Defense Department said on January 30 that the US navy vessel transited in “innocent passage” within 12 nautical miles of Zhongjian Dao. This “freedom of navigation” operation was about challenging excessive maritime claims that restrict the rights and freedoms of the US and others, not about territorial claims to land features. What is China’s comment on that?
A: First, I want to make it clear that China has indisputable sovereignty over islands in the South China Sea and their adjacent waters.
On January 30, the guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur violated the Chinese law and entered territorial waters of China’s Xisha Islands without authorization. Chinese troops stationed on the islands, naval ships and airplanes made an immediate response, conducted identification and verification against the US navy vessel and warned it to leave.
I want to point out that the so-called “freedom of navigation plan” or “freedom of navigation operation” that the US has been advertising all these years does not conform to the well-recognized international law. It is conducted in disregard of sovereign security and maritime rights and interests of coastal states, causing severe damage to regional peace and stability. It is, in essence, the pursuit of maritime hegemony by the US under the cloak of “freedom of navigation” which has been met with firm opposition from members of the international community, developing countries in particular. It is highly dangerous and irresponsible for the US to do so.
China always respects and supports the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea to which all countries are entitled under international law. But we are firmly opposed to any country’s attempt to undermine China’s sovereignty, security and maritime rights and interests citing the freedom of navigation as an excuse. The flexing of military muscles and creating of tension by the US under the pretext of the freedom of navigation is the biggest cause of militarization in the South China Sea. We advise the US to stop as soon as possible the action that brings good to none.