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The US Navy sailed their guided missile destroyer USS Mustin near the disputed Paracel Islands which are claimed by China, Vietnam and Taiwan earlier today. Meanwhile, the navy’s sister combat ship USS Gabrielle Giffords and Singapore’s Navy frigate RSS Steadfast conducted a bilateral exercise last week.
The exercise aimed to enhance relations and cooperation between the two navies and focused on the importance of communications and coordination.
This included undertaking a variety of exercises including a flashing light exercise, manoeuvring exercise, large and small calibre gun shoots, and a photo exercise with a focus on COVID-19 social distancing measures.
Lt. Anthony Junco, a spokesperson for the US Navy’s 7th Fleet, said of the 28th May drill: “On May 28 (local time), USS Mustin (DDG 89) asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the Paracel Islands, consistent with international law.
“By conducting this operation, the United States demonstrated that these waters are beyond what China can lawfully claim as its territorial sea.”
Lt Junco added that the Mustin passed within 12 nautical miles of Woody Island and Pyramid Rock in the disputed Paracel Islands.
Speaking about the exercise with Singapore, Captain Ann McCann, Deputy Commodore of the US Navy’s Destroyer Squadron 7 Unit, said: “Meeting our partners at sea gives our navies the opportunity to practice maritime proficiencies and further strengthen the bond between both countries.
“Engaging with our network of partners in the region is essential to maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
The US and China have long clashed over the South China Sea which is seen by both countries as a resource-rich waterway.
China claims most of the sea and has built artificial islands to strengthen its power in the region.
But it has been accused by rival nations of deploying warships, arming outposts and ramming fishing vessels, whilst the US has denounced China’s claims over the sea.
US officials also claim that Beijing has militarised the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea by deploying military hardware and constructing military facilities.
It is understood that China maintains an airfield on Woody Island with it’s military regularly landing aircraft there.
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The exercise by the ship comes after clashes between the US and China over Beijing’s efforts to exert greater control over Hong Kong and the lack of action for controlling the Coronavirus pandemic.
China’s foreign minister dismissed claims by the US that the country is exploiting the coronavirus outbreak to expand its footprint in the South China Sea, labelling such accusations as “sheer nonsense.”
Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters at a news conference on Sunday that China was cooperating closely on anti-virus efforts with Southeast Asian countries, several of whom have overlapping territorial claims with China in the strategically vital waterway.
While China has long been stepping up its presence in the region, Wang said other countries, implying the United States and its allies, have been creating instability with military flights and sea patrols.
Mr Wang said: “Their ill-intentioned and despicable moves are meant to sow discord between China and (Southeast Asian countries) and undermine the hard-won stability in the region.”
US naval vessels regularly conduct “freedom of navigation” exercises in the sea, sailing close to Chinese-claimed features sparking condemnations from Beijing.
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