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U.S. Navy Dispatches Destroyer to S. China Sea Amidst Chinese Drills

USS Milius under way in the South China Sea
Courtesy USN

Published Apr 10, 2023 11:58 PM by The Maritime Executive

China has concluded a three-day exercise designed to simulate "sealing off" Taiwan from the outside world, sending a clear response to Taiwan's increasing diplomatic ties with the United States. Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy responded in kind with a freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) near one of China's South China Sea bases. 

Beijing dispatched the aircraft carrier Shandong to the east of the island and conducted a series of naval drills, including simulated attacks and blockades. Eight Chinese PLA Navy warships remain deployed around the island after the exercise, Taiwan's defense ministry reported on Tuesday. 

The drills followed shortly after Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen flew to California to meet with U.S. Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy and other senior congressional leaders. Beijing had previously warned that it would view an official visit to the U.S. by President Tsai as an offense. 

"China used this to launch military exercises, causing instability in Taiwan and the region. This is not a responsible attitude for a major country in the region," President Tsai said in a statement Tuesday. 

Taiwan is a democratically-governed locality with de facto independence from the People's Republic of China; Beijing puts the highest priority on reunifying the island with the mainland - and has threatened to use force if necessary. 

As the PLA Navy's drills carried on in and around the Taiwan Strait, the U.S. Navy dispatched the destroyer USS Milius to pass near Chinese-occupied Mischief Reef, a formerly submerged feature in the Spratly Islands that China has built up into a strategic military installation.

Since the feature was previously under water, international law does not recognize a territorial sea claim extending seaward from Mischief Reef, noted U.S. 7th Fleet in a statement. USS Milius' transit was designed to demonstrate disregard for territorial sea claims in the vicinity of the base, continuing a long tradition of U.S. Navy freedom of navigation operations carried out to challenge Chinese assertions of ownership. 

China claims virtually all of the South China Sea as its own, including areas located hundreds of miles from the mainland. "China has indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and their nearby waters,” said PLA Southern Theater spokesman Senior Col. Tian Junli in a statement denouncing USS Milius' transit.