Tension mounts in the South China Sea as a US Navy destroyer skirts the disputed archipelago of the Spratly Islands, much to China’s chagrin. Sources said the US Navy called its exercise, the second in a week, “freedom of navigation”.
The US Navy noted in its statement: “On July 16, the USS Benfold (DDG 65) asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the South China Sea near the Spratly Islands, consistent with international law.”
Meanwhile, Beijing says its People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLA-N) had “chased” the same vessel earlier this week on Wednesday (July 13).
Significance and history of the Spratly Islands
The Spratly Islands are found off the coasts of the Philippines, southern Vietnam and Malaysia. The island is believed to have significant reserves of natural gas and oil, in addition to fishing grounds and acts as a strategic shipping route.
China, like other disputed areas in the region, claims the Spratly Islands as its own, despite military forces from Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines occupying various parts of the archipelago’s natural islands.
Read more: Why the South China Sea is a hotbed of confrontation
It is pertinent to note that until 1988, the Spratly Islands were under the full control of Vietnam. However, asserting its “historic maritime rights”, in 1988 China killed 74 Vietnamese sailors and took control of the islands.
Since then, the struggle has continued, and China has brought up its nine-dash theory to control the South China Sea. Although the international tribunal invalidated China’s claims in the region, it never accepted the ruling.
Read more: Vietnam strengthens its defenses against China in the Spratly Islands
(With agency contributions)
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