U.S. Navy Ship Sails Near Disputed Paracel Islands, Angering China

China claims the islands as its own, along with most of the South China Sea

China is upset with the United States because the USS McCampbell conducted a "freedom of navigation" operation near the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, coming within 12 miles of the chain. These operations are meant to establish as international waters areas claimed by other countries in contravention of the UN Law of the Sea (LOS) Convention. By sailing through disputed waters, the U.S. Navy challenges the other country's territorial claims; it is for this reason that China was angered.

The Paracel Islands are claimed by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam. China, however, has built outposts there and also reclaimed land by building artificial islands and building up reefs above the waterline. In fact, China has done this throughout the South China sea in an attempt to press its claims to most of the area, despite the fact that its territorial ambitions extend far beyond its mainland borders, infringe upon international waters, and come close to the shores of other countries in the area.

The South China Sea is immensely important due to its sea lanes and associated shipping traffic, as well as a large amount of oil and natural gas reserves. China claims most of the area as its own, in dispute with a number of other countries, including Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Brunei. In addition, the United States and other countries have an interest in maintaining the Sea as international waters. Japan, France, and the UK are among other nations who conduct freedom of navigation exercises in the area.

China's behavior in the Sea is almost universally condemned by the international community, although beyond conducting a few naval exercises in the area, no one has done much to counter China's actions. China has lost in past arbitration and ignored treaties, continuing to expand its military and commercial presence in the Sea (photos available here).

A map illustrating the competing claims of China and its neighbors is available here.

(Main Image: USS McCampbell, by U.S. Navy, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8224174 )

No. 1-2

Most of China's artificial islands within the "Nine-Dash Line" would not be militarily defensible during a real conflict with the US. We could simply cut off their supplies and take them out with relatively small losses. This makes the built up islands a military liability rather than an asset. The PLA knows this.

The real reason for the islands is to try to establish a political squatters claim to the region. In this sense the US and its allies strategy of ignoring the claim is appropriate. If Trump was smarter (let's face it, the guy is as dumb as a pile of broken bricks), he would engage Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, ... and start running joint freedom of navigation exercises where the US escorts local country ships through the region.

On a more humorous note, I'd love to see a bunch of SEALs SDV/dive onto one of the artificial island beaches (unarmed) and set up a BBQ and crack open a couple of beers. Of course done within range of a major US deployment of assets. Now that would really drive the point home.


Short of building our own artificial islands & parking US forces on top of them, there seems to be little beyond symbolism that we can actually do...