WASHINGTON/BEIJING — Tensions are high in the Spratly archipelago as the US conducted an operation testing China's territorial claims.
The Washington Post reports that sovereignty in the South China Sea has long been disputed by many different countries — Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan, and the Philippines included — but China, citing history, has claimed the entire area as its own territory.
The U.S. challenged this claim on Tuesday when it sent a U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer, the USS Larsen, on a patrol that brought it within 12 nautical miles of Subi and Mischief reefs, two of China's man-made islands.
Under the U.N. Convention on the Law of The Sea, the 12 nautical mile limit can only be set around natural islands, not artificial ones, where a 500-meter safety zone applies.
According to Reuters, China responded angrily to the US mission, with its Foreign Ministry stating that the relevant authorities monitored, followed, and warned the USS Larsen after it "illegally" entered the country's waters.
The U.S. has said additional patrols may follow in the coming weeks, conducted around structures built by Vietnam and the Philippines in the Spratly islands.