Report: U.S. challenged China, 12 other nations on navigation rights in 2015

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The United States carried out “freedom of navigation” operations against China and 12 other countries last year, the Pentagon reported on April 25.

China’s sovereignty claims and military buildup in the South China Sea were the main focus of the missions and U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the Navy would continue to operate in the region despite China’s opposition to the patrols.

The USS Lassen recently sailed near China's artificial island on Subi Reef in the disputed sea, US defense officials said. /U.S. Navy/Declan Barnes
The USS Lassen recently sailed near China’s artificial island on Subi Reef in the South China Sea. /U.S. Navy/Declan Barnes

“The United States carries out militarization in the South China Sea in the name of freedom of navigation and overflight, threatens coastal nations’ sovereignty and security and destroys regional peace and stability,” China’s Defense Ministry said in a statement on its website on April 25.

The ministry was responding to what it said were reports of recent U.S. military flights near Scarborough Shoal – known as Huangyan Island by China – which Beijing seized control of after a stand-off with the Philippine coast guard in 2012.

Adm. Harry Harris, the head of U.S. Pacific Command, said the Navy would increase its freedom of navigation missions in the South China Sea as China continues to assert its dominance by building military facilities there.

U.S. freedom of navigation operations last year also challenged China’s claims of jurisdiction in the airspace above its maritime Exclusive Economic Zone as well as restrictions it has tried to impose on aircraft flying through an Air Defense Identification Zone over the East China Sea.

Along with China, the U.S. conducted operations against India, Indonesia, Iran, Libya, Malaysia, the Maldives, Oman, the Philippines and Vietnam, the Pentagon report said. The U.S. military carried out single operations against Taiwan, Nicaragua and Argentina.