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    Guided-missile destroyer USS William P. Lawrence (DDG 110)

    Why South China Sea is One of the World's 'Most Explosive Hotspots'

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    US-Chinese Standoff in South China Sea (51)
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    The Pentagon's latest "freedom of navigation" operation (FONOP) in the South China Sea, which Beijing referred to as an act of provocation, shows that tensions in "one of the world's most explosive hotspots" could escalate, analysts warned.

    "With both China and the US unlikely to change course, more close calls and increasing tensions are likely," the Soufan Group noted, calling the trend "increasingly worrisome."

    "The consequences of accidental military confrontation between China, which is determined to expand its sphere of influence, and the US, which is determined to maintain its naval influence in the region, cannot be overstated," the experts added.

    On May 10, the US sent its guided missile destroyer USS William P. Lawrence into the 12-mile radius of the Fiery Cross Reef, known in China as the Yongshu Island. This was the Pentagon's third naval operation in the region claimed by China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam and several other countries.

    The US carried out the operation to "challenge excessive maritime claims" by the claimants, who allegedly want to "restrict the navigation rights" in the South China Sea. Beijing denied this claim.

    Spratly group of islands in the South China Sea, west of Palawan
    © AFP 2019 / POOL / RITCHIE B. TONGO
    Spratly group of islands in the South China Sea, west of Palawan

    "For a long time, the freedom of navigation and overflight in the region has been upheld thanks to the cooperative and concerted efforts by China and relevant coastal countries in the South China Sea," Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang told reporters on Tuesday.

    "In fact, the freedom of navigation and overflight and the passage of vessels of all countries have never met any obstacle," he added.

    Lu Kang also emphasized that the operation "threatened China's sovereignty and security interests, endangered safety of personnel and facilities on the reef, and jeopardized regional peace and stability."

    In late October, the US carried out its first FONOP mission when the USS Lassen sailed close to Subi Reef, an islet in the Spratly archipelago. Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have been locked in a territorial dispute over the island chain.

    In late January, the USS Curtis Wilbur sailed within 12 nautical miles of the Triton Island in the Paracels, an archipelago claimed by China, Taiwan and Vietnam. The US did not notify any claimant prior to the operations.

    View of the part of the city of Sansha on the island of Yongxing, also known as Woody island in the disputed Paracel chain. (File)
    © AFP 2019 / STR
    View of the part of the city of Sansha on the island of Yongxing, also known as Woody island in the disputed Paracel chain. (File)
    Topic:
    US-Chinese Standoff in South China Sea (51)

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    Tags:
    freedom of navigation, territorial dispute, security, Spratly Islands, South China Sea, China, United States
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