Stars and Stripes newspaper in the USA has reported that a US Navy ship sailed close to an artificial island built by China in the South China Sea this week – and got away with it.
On Monday the paper quoted anonymous Department of Defence sources predicting the Navy destroyer USS Lassen would challenge China’s 12-mile territorial claims around the controversial island.
Reporting after the planned sailpast, the paper said the movement by the USS Lassen, a guided missile destroyer, inside what China claims as a 12-mile territorial limit around Subi Reef in the Spratly Islands archipelago, was approved by the White House.
The patrol was apparently completed without incident.
Today, Australia’s Defence Minister Marise Payne released a statement saying Australia, while not participating in the activity, supported it.
“The United States has publicly declared its policy of conducting Freedom of Navigation operations globally, consistent with international law,” Minister Payne said.
“It is important to recognise that all states have a right under international law to freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight, including in the South China Sea. Australia strongly supports these rights.
“Australia is not involved in the current United States activity in the South China Sea.
“Australia has a legitimate interest in the maintenance of peace and stability, respect for international law, unimpeded trade and freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea. Approximately sixty per cent of Australia’s exports pass through the South China Sea.
“Australia continues to cooperate closely with the United States and other regional partners on maritime security.”
The area in dispute is a man-made island that China has built up among a chain of elevated coral reefs, islands and land formations known as the Spratly Islands.