Latest US FONOP in the South China Sea: Tilting at Windmills?


Mark J. Valencia


The Diplomat


 November 4, 2016


In late October, the U.S. undertook yet another Freedom of Navigation Operation (FONOP) challenging China’ claims in the South China Sea. This latest FONOP was accompanied by cryptic comments from the Pentagon and left many analysts scratching their heads. According to the Pentagon, the USS Decatur sailed within waters claimed by China near the Paracel Islands, close to, but not within, the 12 nautical mile(nm) territorial sea limits of any of the islands. The Pentagon said the destroyer “conducted this transit in a routine lawful manner.” This could mean the passage was not “innocent” according to the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) – which is required in foreign territorial seas – but that was not made clear.