An American warship on Tuesday morning sailed close to Fiery Cross Reef, a contested feature in the South China Sea, in the latest US pushback against Chinese claims in the disputed maritime region.
The Pentagon said the USS William P Lawrence had conducted a “routine freedom of navigation operation” near Fiery Cross, a feature in the Spratly island chain that is claimed by the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
The reef is one of several features on which China has constructed runways as part of its effort to boost its ability to project military power in regional waters.
“This operation challenged attempts by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam to restrict navigation rights around the features they claim, specifically that these three claimants purport to require prior permission or notification of transits through the territorial sea, contrary to international law,” said Commander Bill Urban, a Pentagon spokesman. “This operation demonstrates, as President Obama has stated, that the United States will fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows.”
The move comes as the Obama administration takes a tougher stance on China over its activities in the South China Sea.
The White House has until recently been reluctant to take aggressive action in the region that could antagonise China and jeopardise other facets of the Sino-US relationship. But as China has ramped up construction of man-made islands, the US Navy has had more success in convincing the White House of the need for a more aggressive response.
The naval maneouver, which was first reported by the Wall Street Journal, comes as an international tribunal at The Hague prepares to rule on a case brought against China by the Philippines. This year China stepped up construction of runways on Subi Reef and Mischief Reef, complementing the runway at Fiery Cross, which is already operational.
周二上午，一艘美国军舰驶至南中国海争议地物永暑礁(Fiery Cross Reef)附近。这是美国抵制中国对这一海上争议地区主权声索的最新举动。
五角大楼(Pentagon)称，美国海军“威廉?P?劳伦斯号”(USS William P Lawrence)导弹驱逐舰在永暑礁附近执行了一次“例行的航行自由行动”。永暑礁是斯普拉特利群岛（Spratly islands，中国称南沙群岛）中菲律宾、台湾和越南皆声索主权的一处地物。
“这次行动挑战了中国、台湾和越南限制其所声索地物周边航行权利的企图，具体而言，这三个声索方声称要求获得事先许可、或者要求发出领海过境通知，这是违反国际法的。”五角大楼发言人、海军中校比尔?厄本(Commander Bill Urban)表示，“这次行动显示，正如奥巴马(Obama)总统所言，美国将在国际法许可的一切范围内飞行、航行及执行任务。”
这次海上行动是由《华尔街日报》(WSJ)率先报道的。与此同时，海牙的一个国际仲裁法庭正准备对菲律宾诉中国仲裁案做出裁决。今年，中国在渚碧礁(Subi Reef)和美济礁(Mischief Reef)上加快飞机跑道建设速度，这两处跑道对永暑礁上的跑道构成了补充。永暑礁上的跑道现已投入运行。