Pacific Commander: U.S. will stand up to China in South China Sea

Pacific Commander: U.S. will stand up to China in South China Sea

FORUM Staff

The United States stands ready to confront China if Beijing continues to overreach with its maritime claims in the resource-rich South China Sea, the head of U.S. forces in the Pacific said.

While the United States has called on China to respect the findings of an arbitration tribunal at The Hague which invalidated Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, China continues to act aggressively, said Adm. Harry B. Harris, Jr., commander of U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM).

“We will not allow a shared domain to be closed down unilaterally no matter how many bases are built on artificial features in the South China Sea,” Harris said during a December 2016 speech in Sydney, Australia, according to Reuters. “We will cooperate when we can, but we will be ready to confront when we must.”

Harris’ comments were delivered after a December 2016 report by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative revealed that China has installed anti-aircraft and anti-missile weapons on all seven of its newly created islands in the South China Sea.

The transparency initiative, part of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., based the report on satellite images taken in mid- to late November 2016. The weapons are on outposts built by piling sand on coral reefs. The Chinese constructed 10,000-foot airstrips, barracks, lighthouses and radar stations on the islands, Reuters reported.

China’s Defense Ministry contends the developments are mainly for civilian purposes, adding that any defensive measures are legal and appropriate.“For example, were someone to be threatening you with armed force outside your front door, would you not get ready even a slingshot?” the ministry statement said, according to The Associated Press (AP).

Although the Philippines has recently experienced improved relations with China, the country’s defense secretary voiced concern about the weapons systems China is bringing to the South China Sea.The Philippines has troops stationed on some reefs and islands near China’s new artificial islands.

“If true, it is a big concern for us and the international community who uses the South China Sea lanes for trade,” Philippines Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said, according to AP. “It would mean that the Chinese are militarizing the area, which is not good.”

Regardless of the military hardware being installed, Beijing’s land-building projects have been eye-opening. The United States estimates that China has added more than 1,300 hectares of land on seven features in the South China Sea over the past three years. Those projects include runways, ports and aircraft hangars, Reuters reported.

The U.S. has responded by conducting freedom-of-navigation operations in the South China Sea, angering Beijing. (In the picture above, an MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopter takes off from the flight deck of the guided-missile destroyer USS Muster while on patrol in the South China Sea.)

While speaking in Sydney, Harris said the Australian government would have to decide whether to undertake its own freedom-of-navigation operations. The U.S., he added, will not let up.

“The U.S. fought its first war following our independence to ensure freedom of navigation,” Harris said. “This is an enduring principle and one of the reasons our forces stand ready to fight tonight.”

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