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Full statement of US Dept. Defense on USS William P. Lawrence’s FONOP past Fiery Cross Reef

Source: Sam LaGrone

USNI News, May 10, 2016

The following is the May 10, 2016 statement  on USS William P. Lawrence’s FONOP past Fiery Cross Reef from the Pentagon.

The Department of Defense conducted a routine freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea on the morning of May 10 (evening of May 9 in the U.S.), specifically in the vicinity of Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands, to uphold the rights and freedoms of all States under international law and to challenge excessive maritime claims of some claimants in the South China Sea.

During this operation, USS William P. Lawrence (DDG-110) exercised the right of innocent passage while transiting inside 12 nautical miles of Fiery Cross Reef, a high-tide feature that is occupied by China, but also claimed by the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam. This operation challenged attempts by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam to restrict navigation rights around the features they claim, specifically that these three claimants purport to require prior permission or notification of transits through the territorial sea, contrary to international law. Because the Philippines’ maritime claims in relation to South China Sea features do not purport to restrict the exercise of navigation rights and freedoms under the Law of the Sea by the United States and others, they were not challenged during this operation.

These excessive maritime claims are inconsistent with international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention in that they purport to restrict the navigation rights that the United States and all States are entitled to exercise. No claimants were notified prior to the transit, which is consistent with our normal process and international law.

This operation demonstrates, as President Obama has stated, that the United States will fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows. That is true in the South China Sea as in other places around the globe.

Since 1979, the U.S. Freedom of Navigation program has demonstrated non-acquiescence to excessive maritime claims by coastal States all around the world. The program includes both consultations and representations by U.S. diplomats and operational activities by U.S. military forces.

This operation did not challenge territorial claims to land features. The United States takes no position on competing territorial sovereignty claims among the parties to naturally formed land features in the South China Sea.

The United States does, however, take a strong position on protecting and upholding the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea and airspace guaranteed to all countries and that all maritime claims must comply with international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention.

Read the original post plus commentary at https://news.usni.org/2016/05/10/u-s-destroyer-passes-near-chinese-artificial-island-in-south-china-sea-freedom-of-navigation-operation


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