USS Chancellorsville Performs South China Sea FONOP, Draws Chinese Protests

The Tuesday passage of a U.S. guided missile cruiser past a disputed island chain in the South China Sea has drawn protests from Beijing and claims that the People’s Liberation Army expelled the ship from Chinese territorial waters. According to U.S. 7th Fleet, USS Chancellorsville (CG-62) sailed past the Spratly Island chain on Tuesday as […]

Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville (CG-62) conducts routine underway operations in the South China Sea, Nov. 29, 2022. US Navy Photo

The Tuesday passage of a U.S. guided missile cruiser past a disputed island chain in the South China Sea has drawn protests from Beijing and claims that the People’s Liberation Army expelled the ship from Chinese territorial waters.

According to U.S. 7th Fleet, USS Chancellorsville (CG-62) sailed past the Spratly Island chain on Tuesday as part of a freedom of navigation operation.

“USS Chancellorsville (CG-62) asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the South China Sea near the Spratly Islands, consistent with international law. At the conclusion of the operation, USS Chancellorsville exited the excessive claim area and continued operations in the South China Sea,” reads the statement from 7th Fleet.
“The freedom of navigation operation (“FONOP”) upheld the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law by challenging restrictions on innocent passage imposed by the People’s Republic of China, Vietnam and Taiwan.”

China asserts that foreign warships passing within the territorial sea of its claims in the South China Sea require prior approval from Beijing. Under the U.N. Law of the Sea Convention, a warship make an “innocent passage” through another country’s territorial waters with our prior notification.

The Chinese state-supported South China Sea Probing Initiative published satellite images on Twitter showing the cruiser was operating near the Chinese artificial island at Fiery Cross Reef along with a U.S. P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft.

SCS Probing Initiative

Under international law, a warship can transit through a nation’s territorial waters “so long as it is not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal state,” according to Article 19 of the UNLOSC.

In a statement following the transit, the PLA Southern Theater issued a statement claiming Chinese forces drove Chancellorsville out of Chinese territorial waters.

Chancellorsville illegally intruded into the waters adjacent to China’s Nansha islands and reefs without the approval of the Chinese Government, and organized naval and air forces in the Chinese southern theater of the People’s Liberation Army to follow and monitor and give a warning to drive them away,” reads a translation of the statement. “The U.S. military’s actions have seriously violated China’s sovereignty and security, which is another ironclad proof of its hegemony in navigation and militarization of the South China Sea, and fully demonstrates that the United States is an out-and-out security risk maker in the South China Sea.”

In response, the U.S. Navy pushed back against the Chinese statement.

“The PRC’s statement about this mission is false. USS Chancellorsville (CG-62) conducted this FONOP in accordance with international law and then continued on to conduct normal operations in waters where high seas freedoms apply,” reads a 7th Fleet statement.
“The operation reflects our continued commitment to uphold freedom of navigation and lawful uses of the sea as a principle. The United States is defending every nation’s right to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows, as USS Chancellorsville did here. Nothing the PRC says otherwise will deter us.”

The Japan-based Chancellorsville has been operating with the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group in recent months.

The last reported U.S. FONOP in the South China Sea was performed by the guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold (DDG-65) in July.

U.S. Destroyer Performs South China Sea FONOP; China Says it Expelled Warship

A U.S. guided-missile destroyer passed near a South China Sea island chain claimed by China as part of a Freedom of Navigation operation and drew complaints from Beijing. USS Benfold (DDG-65) sailed near the Paracel Islands early Wednesday local time in a FONOP and was monitored by the People’s Liberation Army Navy frigate Xianning (500), […]

USS Benfold (DDG-65) sailing past the Paracel Islands on July 13, 2022. PLA Photo

A U.S. guided-missile destroyer passed near a South China Sea island chain claimed by China as part of a Freedom of Navigation operation and drew complaints from Beijing.

USS Benfold (DDG-65) sailed near the Paracel Islands early Wednesday local time in a FONOP and was monitored by the People’s Liberation Army Navy frigate Xianning (500), according to the Chinese Ministry of Defense.

“This freedom of navigation operation (“FONOP”) upheld the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law by challenging the restrictions on innocent passage imposed by the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Taiwan, and Vietnam and also by challenging PRC’s claim to straight baselines enclosing the Paracel Islands,” reads a statement from U.S. 7th Fleet.
“At the conclusion of the operation, USS Benfold exited the excessive claim and continued operations in the South China Sea.”

In a statement, the People’s Liberation Army Southern Theater Command complained the transit was a violation of Beijing’s territorial waters around the Paracel chain – called the Xisha Islands by the Chinese.

“The U.S. guided-missile destroyer Benfold illegally broke into China’s Xisha territorial waters without the approval of the Chinese Government, and organized sea and air forces in the southern theater of the People’s Liberation Army Chinese to follow up and monitor and warn them to drive away,” reads the statement from the MoD.
“The U.S. military’s actions have seriously violated China’s sovereignty and security, seriously undermined peace and stability in the South China Sea, and seriously violated international law and norms governing international relations.”

A Chinese sailor aboard the frigate Xianning monitors USS Benfold (DDG-65) sailing past the Paracel Islands on July 13, 2022. PLA Photo

The U.S. denied the claim from the PLA.

“The PLA Southern Theater Command’s statement is the latest in a long string of PRC actions to misrepresent lawful U.S. maritime operations and assert its excessive and illegitimate maritime claims at the expense of its Southeastern Asian neighbors in the South China Sea,” reads the statement from 7th Fleet.

The territorial issue specific to the Paracels is China’s claim to a straight baseline around the island chain and requires foreign ships to ask permission to sail between the islands. The U.S. views the seas between the islands as international waters and denies their ships need permission to sail through the chain.

Benfold has been operating with the Japan-based Reagan Carrier Strike Group that began its latest patrol in May. The destroyer performed a similar transit in January.

On Wednesday, 7th Fleet announced that USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) had entered the South China Sea.

Destroyer USS John S. McCain Performs South China Sea FONOP

A U.S. guided-missile destroyer performed a freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea on Tuesday, the Navy announced. USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) operated near the Spratly Islands, which Taiwan, China and Vietnam have all staked a claim to, U.S. 7th Fleet said in a news release. “Unlawful and sweeping maritime claims in […]

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) transits through Peter the Great Bay while conducting routine underway operations on Nov. 24, 2020. U.S. Navy Photo

A U.S. guided-missile destroyer performed a freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea on Tuesday, the Navy announced.

USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) operated near the Spratly Islands, which Taiwan, China and Vietnam have all staked a claim to, U.S. 7th Fleet said in a news release.

“Unlawful and sweeping maritime claims in the South China Sea pose a serious threat to the freedom of the seas, including the freedoms of navigation and overflight, free trade and unimpeded commerce, and freedom of economic opportunity for South China Sea littoral nations,” the Navy said.

Littoral Combat Ship USS Montgomery (LCS-8) in January of this year performed the first FONOP of 2020 when it sailed through waters near the Spratly Islands, USNI News previously reported.

The Navy has conducted multiple FONOPS in the South China Sea this year, as the U.S. maintains a steady presence in the waters as a hedge against China.

“China, Vietnam, and Taiwan require either permission or advance notification before a foreign military vessel engages in ‘innocent passage’ through the territorial sea. Under international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention, the ships of all States –including their warships –enjoy the right of innocent passage through the territorial sea,” reads the 7th Fleet statement.
“The unilateral imposition of any authorization or advance-notification requirement for innocent passage is not permitted by international law, so the United States challenged these requirements. By engaging in innocent passage without giving prior notification to or asking permission from any of the claimants, the United States challenged the unlawful restrictions imposed by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam.”

Last month, McCain performed a FONOP in the waters near Peter the Great Bay, a gulf off of Russia’s Pacific coast in the Sea of Japan. The Navy at the time refuted a Russian claim that one of its destroyers drove McCain out of the waters.

McCain’s FONOP comes several days after destroyer USS Mustin (DDG-89) moved through the Taiwan Strait. Following Mustin’s transit, China’s new carrier on Sunday performed a transit through the strait while heading to training in the South China Sea, according to a Reuters report.