China warned Navy destroyer USS Dewey to leave area near man-made island South China Sea



Beijing has protested after the U.S. Navy reportedly sailed within 12 nautical miles (22 km) of one of China’s man-made islands in the disputed South China Sea — the first so-called freedom of navigation patrol under the administration of President Donald Trump.

The operation, which involved the USS Dewey, a guided-missile destroyer, was conducted Wednesday around Mischief Reef in the Spratly chain of the strategic waterway, according to anonymous U.S. officials.

Freedom of navigation patrols (FONOPS) represent “a challenge to excessive maritime claims,” according to the U.S. Defense Department. The significance of the distance of 12 nautical miles derives from the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which generally grants coastal states jurisdiction over seas within 12 nautical miles of the coast.

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The patrol was said to be the first near a land feature that was included in a ruling last year against China by an international arbitration court in The Hague. The court invalidated China’s claim to sovereignty over large swaths of the South China Sea.


Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang said Beijing had warned the U.S. ship to leave the area and lodged stern representations with Washington over the patrol, according to a posting to the ministry’s website. Ren said that U.S. patrols could lead to accidents and that such moves were not conducive to peace and stability in the waterway.

The operation came less than a week after U.S. Navy vessels completed exercises in the South China Sea with the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force — including the MSDF’s largest warship, the Izumo helicopter destroyer — on May 18.

The building of military and dual-use infrastructure on the three biggest islands in the contested Spratly chain — Subi, Mischief and Fiery Cross reefs — had reached the final stages, with the naval, air, radar and defensive facilities largely complete, according the AMTI.

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All three islands boast hangers that can accommodate 24 fighter jets and four larger planes, including surveillance, transport, refueling or bomber aircraft. Hardened shelters with retractable roofs for mobile missile launchers have also been built on the three.

China has also constructed significant radar and sensor arrays on all three islands, positioning them close to point defense structures to provide protection against air or missile strikes.

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