REPORT: The US Navy may be on its way to check Beijing in the South China Sea

US Navy uss lassenUS Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Huey D. Younger Jr.USS Lassen (DDG 82) patrols the eastern Pacific Ocean.

US President Donald Trump may reverse an Obama administration by challenging Chinese claims in the South China Sea with a handful of US Navy destroyers.

A report from the Navy Times cites US Navy officials as saying that ships from the USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group, currently headed to the Pacific, will carry out freedom of navigation operations near China’s artificial and militarised islands in the South China Sea.

The operations consist of simply sailing ships within 20km of land features in the South China Sea that China claims. The operations, as their name implies, completely observe all international law and exist mainly to assert the right of the US, or any nation, to sail in international waters.

But China will likely not be pleased. In May of 2016, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said that while ships have a right to travel in international waters, military ships are a different matter.

Sources told the Navy Times that the US wants freedom of navigation patrols to happen so frequently that they become routine. From 2012 to October 2015, then-US President Barack Obama froze freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea.

The Navy Times report fits in with President Donald Trump’s announced intentions to check China as a growing world power, but falls short of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s January statement that the US would possibly “stop” China from accessing their artificial islands.

South china sea weapons spratly islandsCSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/DigitalGlobe handout via ReutersA satellite image shows what CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative says appears to be anti-aircraft guns and what are likely to be close-in weapons systems (CIWS) on the artificial island Hughes Reef in the South China Sea in this image released on December 13, 2016.

“It’s what we do. We say, ‘This is international water and we will proudly sail in it, steam in it, or fly over it to protect our right to do so and others’ rights, as well,” Bryan McGrath, a retired US Navy captain, told the Navy Times.

China has repeatedly asserted that the US has no part in the South China Sea dispute, where six nations have overlapping claims to waters that are home to $US5 trillion in annual shipping, and rich in fishing and oil.

The US maintains that the US Navy has operated in the region for decades, and that it remains committed to making sure no one power establishes hegemony over an international waterway.

USS Carl Vinson Navy trainingMass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Patrick W. Menah Jr./US NavyThe aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson conducts a replenishment-at-sea with the fleet replenishment oiler USNS Yukon.

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