Beijing concerned by Pentagon plan
US reportedly ponders sailing along 12-mile territorial limit with Navy ships
Beijing expressed “serious concern” on Wednesday over a reported Pentagon plan to send military ships and aircraft into areas near South China Sea reefs and demanded that Washington issue an immediate clarification.
“We request the parties concerned to speak and act in a cautious manner, not to take any risky or provocative actions, and to maintain regional peace and stability,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a news conference in Beijing.
On Monday, a Chinese frigate monitored the activities of a US combat ship in waters near Nanwei Island in the South China Sea.
Hua said China will continue its surveillance of the waters and airspace to ensure territorial sovereignty and safety.
According to a Wall Street Journal report, US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter asked his staff to look at options that include flying navy surveillance aircraft over South China Sea islands and positioning ships as close as 12 nautical miles from Chinese reefs. Twelve nautical miles is the United Nations’ standard for the breadth of a country’s territorial sea, measured from specific baselines.
“We are considering how to demonstrate freedom of navigation in an area that is critical to world trade,” a US official was quoted by Reuters as saying.
China has always upheld freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, Hua said, but that doesn’t mean any foreign military ship or plane can enter the territorial waters or airspace of another country at will.
US Secretary of State John Kerry is due to visit China this weekend to prepare for key talks later this year, including the annual US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue. The South China Sea could be a topic of his discussion with senior Chinese leaders.
Chen Qinghong, a Southeast Asian studies researcher at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said that Washington, which is worried about China’s construction work on islands in the South China Sea, is trying to stir up trouble in the area.
“Once China does anything in response, the US might use it as an excuse to justify its challenge to China’s territorial sovereignty in the South China Sea,” Chen said.
Moreover, he said, freedom of navigation should not be asserted in such a way.
“It is quite possible for foreign military ships to conduct secret investigations near the islands, which could pose a risk for other countries,” he said.