WASHINGTON --- The guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin conducted a freedom-of-navigation operation in the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea on Thursday to challenge restrictions set by three nearby countries, according to the Navy.
The Mustin was challenging claims by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam that require military vessels to seek permission or provide advanced notification to travel through the territorial sea under “innocent passage," Cmdr. Reann Mommsen, a spokeswoman for 7th Fleet, said in a statement.
China claims sovereignty over the Paracel Islands and has occupied them since 1974, according to the CIA World Factbook. However, ownership of the islands is also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam. China has set up military facilities on the islands, such as airfields and outposts, which has raised alarms from the United States about the growing militarization of the region.
The Navy said innocent passage is a right under international law and prior notification is not required.
“By engaging in innocent passage without giving prior notification to or asking permission from any of the claimants, the United States challenged the unlawful restrictions imposed by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam,” Mommsen said in the statement. “The United States demonstrated that innocent passage may not be subject to such restrictions.” (end of excerpt)
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