Vietnam says ‘respects’ freedom of navigation as US warship sails near Paracels

By Khanh Lynh   January 9, 2019 | 06:47 pm PT
Vietnam says ‘respects’ freedom of navigation as US warship sails near Paracels
The U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell breaks away from a formation with ships following a photo exercise in the Philippine Sea September 23, 2016. Photo by U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Patrick Dionne/Handout via Reuters
Vietnam has said it respects freedom of navigation after a U.S. naval vessel came within 12 nautical miles of the Paracel Islands.

"As a party to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and a nation bordering the East Sea, Vietnam always respects the rights to freedom of navigation and overflight in the East Sea in accordance with the regulations of international law, specifically UNCLOS," foreign ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said Wednesday, using the Vietnamese name for the South China Sea.

Her statement followed the destroyer USS McCampbell’s "freedom of navigation" operation Monday to challenge "excessive maritime claims" by sailing within 12 nautical miles of the islands which belong to Vietnam but are currently illegally occupied by China.

She stressed that maritime claims and related actions of nations bordering the sea must comply with international law and UNCLOS, and Vietnam has full legal basis and historical evidence to assert its sovereignty over the Paracel (Hoang Sa) and Spratly (Truong Sa) Islands in accordance with international law.

"Vietnam requests that nations contribute positively and practically to the maintenance of peace and stability, respect and carry out their international legal obligations, respect the rule of law in seas and oceans."

The operation Monday was the first of its kind since acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan's appointment to the post. Shanahan, who took over from Jim Mattis last week following the latter's resignation, has urged leaders of the U.S. military to focus on China.

China seized the Paracel Islands from South Vietnam by force in 1974, and has since been illegally occupying them.

In 2012 it established the so-called Sansha City with the archipelago's Woody Island as its seat.

The "city" also covers a number of reefs in the Spratly Islands that China seized by force in 1988 and the Scarborough Shoal, which is claimed by the Philippines.

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