The US military conducted freedom of navigation operations last year challenging maritime claims by 19 countries from China to Argentina, Reuters reported, citing the Pentagon.
The operations were aimed at asserting US transit rights in defiance of efforts to impose restrictions.
It was the largest number of countries challenged in more than a decade, officials said.
The increase was due in part to an increased focus on Latin America, the Pentagon’s annual Freedom of Navigation Report for 2014 said Wednesday.
The military has regularly conducted operations disputing some of China’s maritime claims in recent years and did so again last year.
A US official told Reuters none of those claims were related to Beijing’s dredging to create islands out of reefs in the South China Sea.
The official said China has not attempted to assert maritime claims around those newly created islands and would not be able to do so.
“Under international law an island is a naturally formed feature, and it specifically says in international law that an artificial island is not entitled to a territorial sea,” the official said.
The United States carries out freedom of navigation operations by sending ships and military aircraft into maritime areas that countries have tried to restrict in some way. The operations aim to show that the international community has not accepted the restrictions.
Iran and the Philippines have been the most frequently challenged countries over the years, mainly because they sit astride heavily traveled sea lanes whose use they have tried to limit or govern.
Manila has designated the Sulu Sea and other areas as archipelagic waters over which it has complete sovereignty, a claim Washington disputes.
– Contact us at [email protected]