October 16, 2015

CNAS Press Note: Freedom of Navigation Operations in the South China Sea

By Mira Rapp-Hooper

Washington, October 16 – On reports that the U.S. military intends to run a Freedom of Navigation Operation (FONOP) in the South China Sea in the coming days, Center for a New American Security (CNAS) Asia-Pacific Security Program Senior Fellow Mira Rapp-Hooper has written a new Press Note, “Freedom of Navigation Operations in the South China Sea.”
The full press note is below:
Administration sources have signaled that the U.S. will conduct a Freedom of Navigation Operation (FONOP) in the South China Sea in the coming days. The exercise will transit within 12 nautical miles of one of China’s artificial islands in the Spratly Island group. In so doing, it will contest Chinese maritime claims around the outpost, which the United States deems to be inconsistent with the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. The exercise may also transit other land features held by other claimant states.
The U.S. Navy’s Freedom of Navigation Program conducts dozens of navigational assertions each year, including many in Asia. The Navy has not conducted a FONOP near Chinese-held features in the Spratly Islands, however, since 2012. Rumors first emerged in May that the Pentagon was considering the use of FONOPS around China’s artificial features, but it has declined to do so until now.
China has made clear that it will object mightily to U.S. FONOPS near its Spratly features and will interpret exercises as violations of its sovereignty. FONOPS do not, however, contest Chinese claims to territory and are therefore consistent with the U.S. position that it is neutral on the South China Sea sovereignty disputes. In the last several months, many regional states have expressed their concerns about what China’s island building means for freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea. U.S. operations are therefore likely to have strong, public support from several countries, and tacit support from others.

Dr. Rapp-Hooper is available for interviews. To arrange an interview, please contact Neal Urwitz at nurwitz@cnas.org or 202-457-9409.


  • Mira Rapp-Hooper

    Former Adjunct Senior Fellow, Asia-Pacific Security Program

    Mira Rapp-Hooper is a former Adjunct Senior Fellow with the Asia-Pacific Security Program at CNAS. She is formerly a Fellow with the CSIS Asia Program and Director of the CSIS...