Strongly refuting Chinese allegations, the US has said that its freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea is not an act of provocation, two days after an American navy ship sailed close to a disputed reef in the area. The US, on the other hand, reaffirmed concerns of the international community, particularly of the countries in the region, against Chinese movements and actions in the resource-rich sea.
However, the White House yesterday refused to describe the situation in the South China Sea as headed towards tension. “I would not describe it that way. I think that there are concerns about China’s activities in the South China Sea, (which) are well documented. Our concerns that we have raised both publicly and privately with Chinese officials at a range of levels,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters at his daily news conference yesterday.
The freedom of navigation operation that was carried out by the US forces earlier this week is relatively routine, the presidential spokesman said.
“We have done that at least a couple of times just in the last four or five months. It is not intended to be a provocative act. It is merely a demonstration of a principle that the president laid out on a number of occasions, which is that the US will fly, operate and sail anywhere that international law allows,” Earnest said, adding that this operation was undertaken in consistent with that principal.
A US navy ship sailed close to a disputed reef in the South China Sea on Tuesday. The guided missile destroyer, USS William P Lawrence, passed within 22-kilometres of Fiery Cross Reef, the limit of what international law regards as an island’s territorial sea. The reef is now an island with an airstrip, harbour and burgeoning above-ground infrastructure. Chinese authorities monitored and issued warnings to the US destroyer when it passed.
The concerns and the tensions that exist around the South China Sea do not actually directly involve the US. The United States is not a claimant to any of the land features in the South China Sea, Earnest said.