Friday, March 23, 2018

Freedom of Navigation

The Navy carried out a freedom of navigation operation within 12 miles of a Chinese artificial island in the South China Sea.

This sounds like an actual FONOP rather than innocent passage:

A U.S. Navy destroyer carried out a "freedom of navigation" operation on Friday, coming within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island built by China in the South China Sea, U.S. officials told Reuters. ...

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the USS Mustin traveled close to Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands and carried out maneuvering operations.

The maneuvering is the key detail. Innocent passage means you rapidly and meekly move through waters you recognize as belonging to someone else.

Of course, under international law China only controls waters measured in not many yards around an artificial island consistent with safety. So legally our ship could have gotten much closer. But the movement made the point.

I look for details because during the Obama administration I grew to suspect--and eventually had it confirmed--that our "freedom of navigation" missions were actually innocent passage.

UPDATE: China makes an ominous threat in their complaint about Mustin:

China's defense ministry claimed that by carrying out these so-called infringements, the US had "damaged the atmosphere of military-to-military relations between the two countries, caused close encounters by air and naval forces, which could easily trigger miscalculation or even accidents at sea or in air."

Miscalculation and accidents? I do hope we provide muscular overwatch for ships on FONOPs in case China engineers an accident.

And you know my views on mil-to-mil contacts with China.