China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs claims that a United States Navy warship illegally entered the contested waters and trespassed near China’s artificial islands in the South China Sea. More specifically the Ministry’s statement said, “The action taken by the U.S. warship has threatened China’s sovereignty and securityinterest, and has put the safety of personnel on the reefs in danger.” The name of the vessel they are referring to is the USS Lassen. According to the United States, the destroyer was conducting a transit near the Subi Reef in the Spratly Islands on Tuesday, October 27th. If the United States were to recognize these man-made islands as Chinese territory then the U.S. operation would be considered an infiltration of Chinese sovereign territory.
In response to the incident, this morning the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs made a warning that was threatening in nature, specifically towards the United States. The warning was actually directed at any country who “caused trouble or raised tensions in the territories China claims as its own.” However, in another statement China alluded that they would not hesitate to build up and use their military force to hinder anyone that threatens their territorial rights and security, safety, peace and stability.
The United States should take these warnings seriously, regardless if officials agree on whether or not international law was broken in this situation. The conflict in the South China Sea has only gotten more complicated and is continuing to fill with varied territorial claims centered around the myriad of islands and surrounding waters in the area. While certainly some of these claims may be valid, China’s most recent argument involving the United States’ naval vessel may be faltered. This is because that “in a little over 18 months China has reclaimed more than 2,000 acres at three main locations in the Spratly Islands.” This rapid acquisition of territory should raise eyebrows and should prompt the United States to further examine international and maritime laws and how it will shape future U.S. foreign and national security policies as one administration comes to a close and as another one emerges.