REUTERS — A U.S. navy warship sailed close to a disputed reef in the South China Sea on Tuesday, a U.S. Department of Defense official said, days after China warned criticism of its claims in the crucial waterway would rebound like a coiled spring.
The freedom of navigation operation by the USS William P. Lawrence, traveling within 12 nautical miles of Chinese-occupied Fiery Cross Reef, was to “challenge excessive maritime claims of some claimants in the South China Sea”, Defense Department spokesman Bill Urban said.
“These excessive maritime claims are inconsistent with international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention in that they purport to restrict the navigation rights that the United States and all states are entitled to exercise,” Urban said in an emailed statement.
Facilities on Fiery Cross Reef include a 3,000-metre (10,000-foot) runway and Washington is concerned China will use it to press its extensive territorial claims at the expense of weaker rivals.
U.S. naval officials also believe China has plans to start reclamation and construction activities on Scarborough Shoal, which sits further north of the Spratlys within the Philippines claimed 200 nautical mile (370 km) exclusive economic zone.
• THIS VIETNAMESE BASE WILL DECIDE THE SOUTH CHINA SEA’S FATE — ASIA TIMES