The U.S. Navy destroyer USS Lassen passed through the Spratly Islands on October 26 in the first freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) in the area since 2012. The operation included sailing within 12 nautical miles of Subi Reef, a feature that was previously submerged at high-tide và on which Đài Loan Trung Quốc constructed an artificial island over the last two years. Contrary to lớn initial reports, the Lassen was not asserting that, as a low-tide elevation & not a legal roông xã or island, Subi Reef is not entitled to lớn a 12-nautical-mile territorial sea. It was asserting the right of ships lớn transit near the reef regardless of its legal status. Subi sits within the potential territorial sea of Sandy Cay, a nearby unoccupied feature that may or may not legally qualify as a roông chồng. It is possible that under international law Subi could be used lớn extkết thúc the territorial sea of Sandy Cay, so the Lassen transited in a manner allowed in either the territorial sea or international waters. The ship also reportedly passed within 12 nautical miles of features occupied by the Philippines & Vietnam giới.

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The Lassen’s patrol through the Spratlys has suddenly pushed the little-known U.S. FON program into the spotlight. And U.S. officials have sầu made clear that the recent operation was just the first of many in the disputed island chain. So what is a FONOP? Below are just a few examples of potential operations the United States might undertake in the Spratly Islands khổng lồ conthử nghiệm excessive maritime claims và assert freedom of navigation.

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Possible Freedom of Navigation Operations

U.S. officials have maintained that the recent operation near Subi Reef và other features was routine, & that the U.S. FON program does not unfairly target China. The program has been in existence since 1979 and it targets the excessive sầu claims of dozens of nations, both friendly & antagonistic to lớn the United States, each year. In 2014, U.S. FONOPs took place in the waters and airspace of 19 countries, including many in Asia.

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United States Freedom of Navigation Operations 2014

It is hard khổng lồ say where & against what kind of clayên ổn or restriction the next U.S. FONOPhường. in the Spratlys might occur. But sooner or later the United States will certainly undertake an operation lớn assert that not all features in the South Trung Quốc Sea warrant territorial waters—a position repeatedly stressed by top U.S. officials. This might not have sầu been the case at Subi Reef, but there are plenty of other low-tide elevations in the Spratlys that indisputably lies beyond the potential territorial sea of any nearby rochồng or island. And Trung Quốc is not the only country occupying them.

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Which Spratlys Don’t Get a Territorial Sea?

For a deeper dive into lớn the recent FONOP and its implications, check out these recent Analysis articles from: The U.S. Asserts Freedom of Navigation in the South Đài Loan Trung Quốc Sea, How Will Đài Loan Trung Quốc Respond to lớn Future U.S. Freedom of Navigation Operations?, How the U.S. FON Program is Lawful and Legitimate, An Interview with Bonnie Glaser on FONOPS & China’s Reaction, and Can Japan Join U.S. Freedom of Navigation Operations in the South Đài Loan Trung Quốc Sea?