US destroyer challenges China’s claims in South China Sea

US Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Chafee has become the latest US warship to carry out a freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea.

US defense officials said that the destroyer operated near the Paracel Islands on Tuesday. Known as Xisha in Chinese, the group of islands is also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam.

According to CNN, Chafee did not come within 12 miles of the islands, which would be considered to be within territorial waters by China, and instead stayed in the straight baseline around the islands claimed by China.

In response to the destroyer’s presence, Chinese defense ministry dispatched a warship, two fighter jets and a helicopter to escort the US ship out of its waters.

Chafee’s activities in the South China Sea are referred to as freedom of navigation operations (FONOP) by the US Navy. These operations are used by the US to challenge countries’ excessive claims in disputed regions.

The US Navy has so far carried out four such operations under president Donald Trump. The previous three freedom of navigation operations of 2017 were conducted by USS Dewey, USS Stethem and the USS John S McCain before it was involved in a collision with a merchant ship near the Strait of Malacca and Singapore in August this year.