The U.S. Navy destroyer USS Lassen passed through the Spratly Islands on October 26 in the first freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) in the area since 2012. The operation included sailing within 12 nautical miles of Subi Reef, a feature that was previously submerged at high-tide & on which China constructed an artificial islvà over the last two years. Contrary lớn initial reports, the Lassen was not asserting that, as a low-tide elevation and not a legal roông chồng or island, Subi Reef is not entitled lớn a 12-nautical-mile territorial sea. It was asserting the right of ships to lớn transit near the reef regardless of its legal status. Subi sits within the potential territorial sea of Sandy Cay, a nearby unoccupied feature that may or may not legally qualify as a roông xã. It is possible that under international law Subi could be used khổng lồ extover the territorial sea of Sandy Cay, so the Lassen transited in a manner allowed in either the territorial sea or international waters. The ship also reportedly passed within 12 nautical miles of features occupied by the Philippines and Vietphái mạnh.
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The Lassen’s patrol through the Spratlys has suddenly pushed the little-known U.S. FON program inlớn the spotlight. And U.S. officials have made clear that the recent operation was just the first of many in the disputed isl& chain. So what is a FONOP? Below are just a few examples of potential operations the United States might undertake in the Spratly Islands to lớn condemo excessive maritime claims & assert freedom of navigation.
U.S. officials have maintained that the recent operation near Subi Reef and other features was routine, và that the U.S. FON program does not unfairly target China. The program has been in existence since 1979 và it targets the excessive claims of dozens of nations, both friendly và antagonistic to lớn the United States, each year. In năm trước, U.S. FONOPs took place in the waters & airspace of 19 countries, including many in Asia.
It is hard to lớn say where & against what kind of claim or restriction the next U.S. FONOP in the Spratlys might occur. But sooner or later the United States will certainly undertake an operation khổng lồ assert that not all features in the South China Sea warrant territorial waters—a position repeatedly stressed by top U.S. officials. This might not have sầu been the case at Subi Reef, but there are plenty of other low-tide elevations in the Spratlys that indisputably lies beyond the potential territorial sea of any nearby roông chồng or isl&. And Trung Quốc is not the only country occupying them.
For a deeper dive into the recent FONOP và its implications, check out these recent Analysis articles from: The U.S. Asserts Freedom of Navigation in the South Trung Quốc Sea, How Will Đài Loan Trung Quốc Respond to Future U.S. Freedom of Navigation Operations?, How the U.S. FON Program is Lawful and Legitimate, An Interview with Bonnie Glaser on FONOPS & China’s Reaction, & Can nhật bản Join U.S. Freedom of Navigation Operations in the South Trung Quốc Sea?