27 October 2015

China Scolds U.S. for South China Sea “Provocation”

Elizabeth Shim, “China Scolds U.S. for South China Sea ‘Provocation’,” UPI, 27 October 2015.

Beijing said that its navy had deployed two vessels: Lanzhou, a missile destroyer and Taizhou, a patrol boat, to warn the U.S. ship away from waters claimed by China. …

The United States’ dispatch of the USS Lassen had been planned weeks in advance, in what Washington has called an exercise of the right to freedom of navigation in international waters.

But on Tuesday China’s Foreign Ministry called the move illegal. The Lassen, meanwhile, has been heading back to its base in Yokosuka, Japan, according to an unidentified Pentagon official who spoke to The Times on the condition of anonymity.

The Navy destroyer had sailed within 12 nautical miles of Subi reef, where Beijing has built an artificial island. Satellite images have shown China has used large-scale dredging to reclaim land over live coral reefs, and construction on a runway has begun, although Chinese President Xi Jinping has said China is not pursuing militarization of the islands.

Andrew S. Erickson, an associate professor at the China Maritime Studies Institute at the U.S. Naval War College in Rhode Island, said China is not entitled to a 12-nautical-mile territorial limit, according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The reefs are situated at a low-tide elevation, meaning beyond a 500-meter safety zone ships and aircraft are allowed to operate without consultation or permission.

Further thoughts from Andrew Erickson:

Beyond 500 meters of low-tide elevations (LTEs)—features naturally below water at high tide—foreign ships and aircraft are free to operate at will without consultation or permission, as USS Lassen has just done near Subi Reef. Unlike rocks or islands, under international law, LTEs such as Subi Reef are not entitled to the 12 nautical miles’ territorial waters or airspace that rocks or islands are. Rather, beyond a 500-meter safety zone, all high seas freedoms apply. These are the freedoms that USS Lassen has just exercised.

The USS Lassen’s positive action underscores U.S. commitment to maintaining an open global system with global commons that are free for all to use to the maximum extent permitted by international law, without favor, fear, or obstruction. Freedom of the Seas is a key element of this vital equation.

As can be seen from the peaceful, unimpeded nature of the USS Lassen’s operation, China and the U.S. share an interest in keeping the South China Sea’s vital sea lanes of stable and open.

For related analysis, see:

Jeremy Page and Chun Han Wong, “U.S. Warship’s Patrol Escalates Dispute Over Islands in South China Sea,” Wall Street Journal, 27 October 2015.

Jane Perlez, “Beijing Calls U.S. Warship’s Route in South China Sea a ‘Provocation’,”New York Times, 27 October 2015.

Simon DenyerCraig Whitlock and Steven Mufson, “U.S. Warship Sails within 12 Miles of Chinese-Built Island in South China Sea,” Washington Post, 26 October 2015.

Andrew S. Erickson, “China’s Main Mission: South China Sea, Not Syria,” The National Interest, 5 October 2015.

Dan De Luce and Paul Mcleary, “In South China Sea, a Tougher U.S. Stance,” Foreign Policy, 2 October 2015.

James Hardy and Sean O’Connor, “China Completes Runway on Fiery Cross Reef,” IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, 25 September 2015.

Christina Larson, “China’s Island Building Is Destroying Reefs,” Science 349.6255 (25 September 2015): 1434.

Andrew Erickson and Kevin Bond, “Essay: China’s Island Building Campaign Could Hint toward Further Expansions in Indian Ocean,” USNI News, 17 September 2015.

Ronald O’Rourke, Maritime Territorial and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) Disputes Involving China: Issues for Congress (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, 7 August 2015), R42784.

Andrew S. Erickson and Kevin Bond, “Dredging Under the Radar: China Expands South Sea Foothold,” The National Interest, 26 August 2015.

Andrew S. Erickson, “New U.S. Security Strategy Doesn’t Go Far Enough on South China Sea,” China Real Time Report (中国实时报), Wall Street Journal, 24 August 2015.

Andrew Erickson and Kevin Bond, “Dredging Fleet Shores up Beijing’s Position in South China Sea and Beyond,” Lowy Interpreter, 12 August 2015.

Andrew S. Erickson, “Keeping the South China Sea a Peaceful Part of the Global Commons,” The National Interest, 27 July 2015.

Andrew S. Erickson, “Follow the Dragon Tracks: China’s Emerging Presence From the South China Sea to Facilities Access in the Indian Ocean,” keynote address to Congressional Defense and Foreign Policy Forum, Defense Forum Foundation, Capitol Hill, Washington, DC, 24 July 2015.

Andrew S. Erickson, Testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, Hearing on “America’s Security Role in the South China Sea,” Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC, 23 July 2015.

Andrew S. Erickson and Kevin Bond, “Archaeology and the South China Sea,” The Diplomat, 20 July 2015.

Gabriel B. Collins and Andrew S. Erickson, “Djibouti Likely to Become China’s First Indian Ocean Outpost,” China SignPost™ (洞察中国) 91 (11 July 2015).

Andrew S. Erickson and Gabriel B. Collins, “Dragon Tracks: Emerging Chinese Access Points in the Indian Ocean Region,” Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, Center for Strategic and International Studies, 18 June 2015.

Andrew S. Erickson, “Lengthening Chinese Airstrips May Pave Way for South China Sea ADIZ,” The National Interest, 27 April 2015.

Andrew S. Erickson, “See China’s Secret Ocean Airbase,” Live interview on “Today Asia” Program, CNN International, 17 April 2015.

Andrew S. Erickson and Austin M. Strange, “Pandora’s Sandbox: China’s Island-Building Strategy in the South China Sea,” Foreign Affairs, 13 July 2014.