15:48 GMT15 January 2021
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    Although the United States has cast itself as the global enforcer of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), Washington has never been a signatory to the treaty.

    The US Seventh Fleet announced on Thursday that one of its warships, the USS John S. McCain, had performed a freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) near Vietnam’s Con Dao Islands. During the brazen maneuvers, the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer purposefully sailed through territorial waters claimed by Vietnam to demonstrate Washington’s rejection of the claim.

    According to the Navy, Vietnam has made “excessive maritime claims,” and the USS McCain’s actions helped “preserve access and navigational freedoms consistent with international law.” Hanoi had made no public comment on the operation when this story went to publication.

    In the past, Hanoi has supported FONOPs when carried out in China’s claimed waters, but more recently, the US has begun challenging Vietnam’s claims as well, particularly in the Spratly Islands.

    While the report was non-specific about the US’ objections concerning the Con Dao Islands, a 1983 report by the US State Department calls attention to Hanoi’s straight baselines drawn around Con Dao and other island groups off the country’s southern coast. The report claims the islands, which are 53 miles from the Vietnamese mainland, are too far away to be included in such territorial claims.

    The McCain was used last month to issue a similar challenge to Russia in Peter the Great Gulf, when it sailed several kilometers past Moscow’s straight baseline, claiming the historically Russian waterway is international waters.

    This was the McCain’s second FONOP this week: just two days earlier, the destroyer sailed past the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea to protest claims over the islands and nearby waters by both Hanoi and Beijing. Just days before that, another US warship, the destroyer USS Mustin, sailed through the Taiwan Strait. 

    While the US insists the Taiwan strait is part of international waters, China says these activities are undermining peace and stability in the area.

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    Tags:
    South China Sea, US Navy, Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPS), USS John S. McCain, Vietnam
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