The U.S. Navy has conducted a so-called freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) near disputed waters in the Sea of Japan, it said Thursday, to challenge “excessive maritime claims” made by Russia in the area.
On Wednesday, the guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell, which is forwards-deployed to the U.S. naval base in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, “sailed in the vicinity of Peter the Great Bay to challenge Russia’s excessive maritime claims and uphold the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea enjoyed by the United States and other Nations,” U.S. Navy Lt. Rachel McMarr, a spokesperson for the U.S. Pacific Fleet, said in a statement.
The move was likely to anger Russia, which headquarters its Pacific Fleet in the eastern port city of Vladivostok, located in Peter the Great Bay, the largest gulf in the Sea of Japan.
The U.S. military, which has made a series of high-profile FONOPs in the disputed South China Sea this year, characterized the operation as “routine” and did not target a specific country.
“U.S. Forces operate in the Indo-Pacific region on a daily basis. These operations demonstrate the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows. That is true in the Sea of Japan, as in other places around the globe,” McMarr said.
“We conduct routine and regular freedom of navigation operations, as we have done in the past and will continue to do in the future. FONOPs are not about any one country, nor are they about current events. All freedom of navigation assertions are grounded in principle and the rule of law,” she added.
A U.S. defense official said that Wednesday’s operation was the first time the U.S. had conducted a FONOP in that area since 1987, when the Soviet Union was the government making those claims, CNN reported.
The operation could provide ammunition for Moscow, which is currently in negotiations with Tokyo over a decades-old territorial dispute concerning four Russian-controlled islands off Hokkaido.
Russia has said a possible U.S. military presence on any of the disputed islands if they are returned to Japan remains a major stumbling block.
It also comes as the United States and Russia clash over a number of issues, including accusations by Washington that Moscow has violated terms of the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), and U.S. complaints over recent Russian military operations near Ukraine.