The USS Decatur sailed near two Chinese man-made islets lands in the South China Sea. On 30 September:
“The guided-missile destroyer USS Decatur conducted a freedom of navigation operation. Decatur sailed within 12 nautical miles of Gaven and Johnson South reefs in the Spratly Islands.”
All US military operations in the area “are designed in accordance with international law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows”.
The image of Johnson South Reef is a year old. I included it in this item because it is one of clearest that shows the extent of Chinese investment in the seven man-made islets it has reclaimed and occupied.
Prior to Chinese reclamation, this reef was above water only at low tide. As shown, the islet has an area of 27 acres or .043 square miles. Press sources claimed that Gaven and Johnson South Reefs also have air defense weapons.
This was the first US Navy transit within 12 nm of these two islets since the Chinese expanded national borders to include them, hundreds of miles from Chinese shores (about 800 miles in the case of Johnson South Reef). They took that action because they were certain that the Obama Administration (the “bowing president”) was too anemic to do anything about it. They certainly had the measure of the man.
There have been at least 10 US and Allied naval transits of Chinese claimed waters in the South China Sea this year, including a transit of the Parcels by HMS Albion in August. In addition, US and allied aircraft have overflown the South China Sea and drawn Chinese protests. The most recent was a B-52 flight last week.
The US and allied transits inside China’s 12 nm territorial sea are conducted under conditions of “innocent passage”. According to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea Naval (UNCLOS) combatants may transit territorial waters without permission if they are making an innocent passage, which includes not conducting military training, launching aircraft and not firing weapons.
Transits in open sea areas of the South China Sea have included live fire training and flight group training by aircraft carriers.
The Chinese insist that warships must obtain Chinese permission to transit the South China Sea. Chinese ships have challenged US, Japanese and Australian ships, but the likelihood of a confrontation at sea is slight. The Chinese are not reluctant to scramble aircraft, however, with a risk of accidents or incidents.