By Mikaela Tenner
“You are in Chinese waters. What is your intention?” This was the continued question that the USS Lassen, an American missile destroyer ship, was asked when it recently sailed into the disputed South China Sea. Although countries are allowed to patrol international waters, they are forbidden from entering another country’s territorial waters unless given prior permission. The waters that the American warship sailed into on October 14 are disputed because they are within ten miles of the Spratly Islands, islands claimed by China, as well as six other nations. America and China are now in a dispute over whether or not a legal violation actually occurred.
Despite American officials claiming no wrongdoing, the Chinese government has said that the decision to steer into their territorial waters was an act of “deliberate provocation.” Although six other nations lay claim on the islands, China considers the Spratly Islands to be unquestionably part of their nation, despite the fact that six other nations claim the same. China’s claims to these islands are loosely based on a series of historical events they believe indicates their ownership of the islands. According to Chinese sources, these islands were labeled as Chinese territory during the the naval expeditions of the Han and Ming dynasties in A.D. 110 and A.D. 1400 respectively. Although Japan laid claim on the islands during World War II, they lost them soon after, and in 1992, a Chinese law was created to grant China ownership of the islands. The Chinese military has occupied several of the 45 islands over the years as well. China believes that, by sailing within 10 miles of the Spratly Islands, the United States has blatantly violated international law.
American sources, however, disagree that a violation actually took place. The United States does not recognize Chinese possession of the islands and discourages China from making these claims. In May 2015, the United States announced the possibility of using military action to confront China on their occupation of the islands. American military officials say that by sailing into the contested waters, the United States was acting to defend its allies who also lay claim on the islands.
If this claim is true, the Unites States’ decision to sail into disputed waters can either be considered an act of bravery or a foolish mistake. The United States claims that their approach to the islands was a statement to stand up for their allies who also lay claim of the island, but are too weak to take a stand themselves. Although this is indeed a noble intention, provoking China is not something that should be taken lightly. The United States is currently $1.3 trillion in debt to China and continues to rely on the nation for a great deal of money. China is now the main source of economic competition for the United States. With the third most powerful army in the world, a stockpile of nuclear weapons, and a rising GDP, China is now a major world superpower. Although China and the United States are on relatively good terms with one another, any provocation could potentially change the nature of this relationship. It would be foolish for the United States to jeopardize their relationship with China simply in order to make a statement about the Spratly Islands.