Over the weekend, the U.S. Navy conducted the latest in a series of patrols to challenge Chinese clams in the South China Sea. The Pearl Harbor based destroyer U.S.S. Hopper passed near Scarborough Shoal, prompting Beijing to threaten accelerated militarization in the area. We have more from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute.
The Navy conducts what it calls “Freedom of Navigation” patrols every couple of months or so – sending a single destroyer within 12 nautical miles of one of the disputed islands, and a routine’s developed.
China transmits a warning by radio, sends one of its own ships in pursuit, and claims that the American warship was driven off after a grave violation of Chinese sovereignty.
For the United States, routine is part of the point.
The U.S. and China’s neighbors refuse to recognize Beijing’s expansive claims, and the U.S. regularly sends ships and aircraft to reassert that these are international waters.
But the U.S.S. Hopper’s patrol was different. Previous operations were conducted either in the Paracel Islands, in the northwest part of the South China Sea near Vietnam, or the Spratleys, in the Southeast near Palawan Island in the Philippines. Hopper passed close by Scarborough Shoal – an exquisitely sensitive spot due west of Manila that China seized in 2012.
China’s built bases in the Paracels and on artificial islands it’s constructed in the Spratleys.
A base on Scarborough Shoal would cement Chinese military control of the South China Sea. Scarborough Shoal was also at the heart of the legal case that the Philippines took to an international court, which rejected China’s claims.
The official People’s Daily described the Hopper patrol as a reckless provocation: “In order to earnestly protect peace,” the Communist Party newspaper said, “China must strengthen and speed up the building of its abilities.”