After months of hyping the incident, the Pentagon finally sent the USS Lassen to 22 km off the Spratly archipelago in the South China Sea, a move that they’d been promising would show China that US ships can sail wherever they please, and over any foreign objection.
China called the move a “serious provocation,” though under international law naval sovereignty does not extend to the sea around artificial islands. Still, it is hard for China not to see the incident that way, since the Pentagon was very public about doing so explicitly to needle China after months of condemning the building of islands, something which is similarly perfectly legal under international law.
Having a US warship go through the area for an actual reason would likely be non-controversial, and the Pentagon’s leadership seemed to be committed to weeks of preamble to make sure this was the international incident it was meant to be. Following this, US officials are threatening to send more ships through.
Details on these new ships going through the area are still scant, and it might not be surprising if the US either doesn’t do it at all, or only does so again after several more months of making hay about today’s crossing. The risk of sending ships through the area too often is that they simply won’t get the publicity they crave.
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