Friday, May 26, 2017

I Await Details of Ship Activities

Some have wondered why Trump hadn't yet carried out missions in the South China Sea. The United States Navy may have challenged China's claims to the waters of the South China Sea.

I have no idea if this is significant:

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the USS Dewey traveled close to the Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands, among a string of islets, reefs and shoals over which China has territorial disputes with its neighbors.

We sailed within 12 nautical miles of the artificial island. But that does not make it a freedom of navigation operation:

[Greg Poling of CSIS] said the key question was whether the U.S. warship had engaged in a real challenge to the Chinese claims by turning on radar or launching a helicopter or boat - actions not permitted in a territorial sea under international law.

Otherwise, critics say, the operation would have resembled what is known as "innocent passage" and could have reinforced rather than challenged China's claim to a territorial limit around the reef.

This author says that the "FONOPs" we have carried out since October 2015 have been innocent passage.

Is that what we just did? If we just sailed through doing nothing that a warship uniquely can do, it is just innocent passage which does not challenge Chinese claims.

If Dewey operated weapons systems while conducting that transit, it was a freedom of navigation operation that denies Chinese authority to control the waters sailed through.

So which one was it? Has Trump continued the Obama tradition of conducting phony FONOPs?

UPDATE: Holy cow, Dewey carried out an actual freedom of navigation operation:

The guided-missile destroyer operated normally and did not conduct the transit under the rules of an innocent passage – the restrictions that allow a warship to pass through another country’s territorial waters with no notice.

The ship was within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef for about 90 minutes zig-zagging in the water near the installation. At one point during the operation, the ship’s crew conducted a man overboard drill, a U.S. official told USNI News.

I'm not clear whether the zig-zagging or drill counted as conducting routine warship activities. Regardless, the article specifically notes that this was beyond innocent passage so I'll go with that.