US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Tuesday the US Navy will send more warships to sail close to artificial islands built by Beijing in disputed areas of the South China Sea.
“We will fly, sail and operate wherever international law permits and whenever our operational needs require,” Carter told the US Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday.
The USS Lassen guided missile destroyer sailed within 12 nautical miles of at least one of the land formations claimed by China in the disputed Spratly Islands chain early Tuesday.
The move infuriated Beijing, which summoned the US ambassador and denounced what it called a threat to its sovereignty.
“We will do it again,” a US official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We sail in international waters at a time and place of our choosing.”
The USS Lassen sailed through waters claimed by China, the Philippines and Vietnam near Mischief Reef in the Spratlys. The official said the sailing lasted about two hours.
China said two of its vessels had shadowed the USS Lassen. Another US official said there had been “routine” communication between the US and Chinese ships.
Tensions have mounted since China transformed reefs in the area—also claimed by several neighboring countrie—into small islands capable of supporting military facilities, a move the US says threatens freedom of navigation.
Washington has repeatedly said it does not recognize Chinese claims to territorial waters around the artificial islands.
China’s Deputy Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui summoned US Ambassador Max Baucus Tuesday to announce that the USS Lassen had engaged in a “serious provocation,” the official news agency Xinhua said.
“The Chinese government will resolutely safeguard territorial sovereignty and legal sea interests, and China will do whatever necessary to oppose deliberate provocation from any country,” Zhang added.
A foreign ministry spokesman said that the ship had “illegally entered” waters near the islands.
The state-run tabloid the Global Times hinted in an editorial that Beijing could respond more strongly if the US made similar trips in the future.
“We should first track the US warships. If they, instead of passing by, stop for further actions, it is necessary for us to launch electronic interventions, and even send out warships, lock them by fire-control radar and fly over the US vessels,” it said.
It added that: “At present, no country, the US included, is able to obstruct Beijing’s island reclamation in the region.”
Despite the Chinese rhetoric, analysts said more such US maneuvers could be expected.
Beijing’s so far limited response showed that it had had its bluff called, said Rory Medcalf, director of the international security program at the Lowy Institute in Sydney.
“The US and its allies and partners should now help the Chinese leadership in saving face, by emphasizing that freedom of navigation operations are normal, not extraordinary,” he said.
Taiwan called for a peaceful resolution of disputes in the South China Sea but reiterated its claim on the disputed territories there.
“Whether from the perspective of history, geography, or international law, the Nansha (Spratly) Islands, Shisha (Paracel) Islands, Chungsha (Macclesfield Bank), and Tungsha (Pratas) Islands, as well as their surrounding waters, are an inherent part of ROC territory and waters,” the Taiwan government said in a statement.
COMMENT DISCLAIMER: Reader comments posted on this Web site are not in any way endorsed by Manila Standard. Comments are views by manilastandard.net readers who exercise their right to free expression and they do not necessarily represent or reflect the position or viewpoint of manilastandard.net. While reserving this publication’s right to delete comments that are deemed offensive, indecent or inconsistent with Manila Standard editorial standards, Manila Standard may not be held liable for any false information posted by readers in this comments section.