U.S. Navy, China dispute navigable boundaries
Chinese jets and a frigate were dispatched “to drive away” the USS Chafee
The U.S. military’s love-hate relationship with China was recently on display with the Pearl Harbor destroyer USS Chafee at the center of it all. Between Oct. 2 and 6, the Chafee and its crew of nearly 350 were in Hong Kong, where sailors met with students at the Yan Chai Hospital Wing Lung Kindergarten and Child Care Centre during a goodwill community relations effort. Less than a week later, on Tuesday, China sent a frigate and fighter jets “to drive away” the guided missile destroyer after it sailed near Chinese-claimed islands in the South China Sea. It was the latest “freedom of navigation” demonstration over disputed territory in the south at the same time the United States is hoping to gain greater Chinese cooperation in curbing North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. U.S. Pacific Command made no announcement of the Chafee operation. A U.S. official said Chafee “challenged excessive maritime claims” near the Paracel Islands, sailing within 16 nautical miles and conducting routine operations, but not within 12 nautical miles, the accepted territorial limit.
The Paracels are claimed by China, Taiwan and Vietnam. The United States is worried about the
$3.37 trillion in annual trade — a figure derived by the Center for Strategic and International Studies China Power project — that passes annually through the South China Sea. The United States wants to prevent any restrictions that China might seek to impose on trade in the region. Much of the South China Sea is claimed by China. The United States sees it as international waters and airspace. China’s state-run Global Times said the frigate Huangshan, two J-11B fighters and one helicopter were dispatched to “warn and drive away” the Chafee. China Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Wednesday that the Xisha Islands, its name for the Paracels, “are an inherent part of the Chinese territory.” “The relevant behavior of the U.S. warship has violated the Chinese law and relevant international law, severely undermined China’s sovereignty and security interests, (and) put in jeopardy the life safety of the frontline personnel from both sides,” Hua said at a press briefing.
She added that China “will continue to take firm measures to safeguard China’s territorial sovereignty.” Despite the objections, Carl Baker, executive director of the Pacific Forum Center for Strategic and International Studies in Honolulu, said the United States is trying to make the freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea “a recurring thing that we’re not going to give up on” — creating a new “modus vivendi,” or accepted practice, for dealing with the dispute.
“We’re going to continue to do that, because we’re going to continue to assert that right, and so, China continues
We see it as our obligation to continue to challenge China where they are — in our view — in the wrong in terms of international law . ... ”
to respond to it,” Baker said. “We see it as part of a normal operation that we understand that they are going to react to, and they understand that we’re going to continue to do it.”
On Aug. 10, the Navy sailed the Japan-based destroyer USS John S. McCain within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands — leading to a warning from two Chinese warships to leave the area. The South China Sea challenges come as the United States and China engage militarily, sometimes more positively, in other arenas. In May, the Navy said China had been invited back to the 2018 Rim of the Pacific maritime exercises,
which are held every two years and will be held again in Hawaii next summer. “All 26 nations that participated in RIMPAC 2016 have been invited to return for RIMPAC 2018,” Cmdr. Ryan Perry, a spokesman for the Navy’s 3rd Fleet, said in May. “We see it as our obligation to continue to challenge China where they are — in our view — in the wrong in terms of international law” in the South China Sea, but that is “one dimension of a bigger relationship that we realize we have to maintain and that we want to preserve with China,” Baker said.
The Chafee deployed from Pearl Harbor on June 13 on an independent deployment
to South America and the western Pacific. In July the ship participated in the multinational maritime exercise UNITAS 2017 in Peru, test-launching an SM-2 missile and taking part in a “sink exercise” involving a decommissioned Peruvian vessel. Chafee sailors also conducted community outreach at a boy’s home in Valparaiso, Chile.
At sea, a Chafee MH-60R helicopter spotted a suspicious small boat with three passengers and two outboard engines that began jettisoning 37 bales of cocaine when the helicopter approached, the Navy said. The Chafee recovered 1,823 pounds of cocaine.
Carl Baker Executive director, Pacific Forum Center for Strategic and International Studies in Honolulu
Sailors assigned to the USS Chafee prepared to dock in Hong Kong earlier this month. Chafee is part of the U.S. 3rd Fleet and U.S. Naval Surface Forces, currently deployed to an area under the U.S. 7th Fleet.
Cryptologic Technician 2nd Class Daleel McCord, a crew member on the Pearl Harbor destroyer USS Chafee, met a student from the Yan Chai Hospital Wing Lung Kindergarten and Child Care Centre in Hong Kong during a goodwill event Oct. 4.