Earlier on Saturday, a USS Curtis Wilbur destroyer reportedly sailed within 12 nautical miles of the island of Triton claimed by China as well as Taiwan and Vietnam.
According to the Pentagon’s spokesman – Captain Jeff Davis – the move was aimed at protecting the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.
Davis said that the operation “challenged attempts by China, Taiwan and Vietnam to restrict navigation rights and freedom” in the region.
While China has already expressed its dissatisfaction with the US’ operations in the area numerous times, other claimants in the South China Sea dispute have been less active.
Dr. Jay Batongbacal, Director of the Institute for Maritime Affairs & Law of the Sea, University of the Philippines, explained that countries like Taiwan and Vietnam tend to take such a stance because US operations in the region put them into a risky position.
“Their main concern is that of being caught between two great powers, but I think what they are looking for is that the USS Curtis could somehow also counteract China’s assertive expansion in the region.”
The analyst explained why countries like Taiwan and Vietnam are in a real dilemma due to the rising tension between China and the US.
“These countries are concerned that China is pushing out fishing activities from their own waters. The petroleum exploration is another matter of concern. There is also the military factor but I think that is the most concern for the US,” Batongbacal said.
“Their jurisdiction under the international law is limited to only the Northern part of the South China Sea but the South China Sea extends more than that. Historically, that region has been more of a shared sea between China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines and so on. The international community has also been using it and sharing it as a maritime corridor,” Batongbacal said.
The analyst pointed out that the fear is that China may be going a little too far in asserting just its own interest and its own claims in this area.
Talking about what claims the US has in the region, Batongbacal said, “Historically, the US claims here would really be only limited to the freedom of navigation and over flight, not the ability to traverse this region freely due to its military mobility. Although this kind of interest was also shared by major powers like the USSR before, Russia now and the United Kingdom, as any military naval power would like to have this passage.”
Regarding the future of this situation, the analyst said that the tension will not die down for a while. It will remain at this tense level and “it might get worse before it gets better. It depends on major powers and how they calibrate their diplomacy at this point by finding some way of living with each other,” the analyst concluded.