US Asia Pacific commander says China ‘militarizing’ WPS
CHINA is transforming the international waters of South China Sea, or West Philippine Sea to the Philippines, into a military zone with its extensive military activities, including the installation of radars and deployment of surface to air missiles in the reefs that it has reclaimed, US Pacific Command commander Adm. Harry Harris Jr. said.
In a news conference at the Pentagon on Thursday (Friday in Manila), whose transcript was made available by the US Department of Defense, Harris said that Beijing was moving to militarize what was supposed to be international waters, constricting international navigation and overflights.
“I am of the opinion that they are militarizing the South China Sea [SCS]. And when they add their advanced fighters to Woody Island… and when they put their advanced missile systems on the Paracels, and when they build three 10,000-foot runways in the Spratlys, on the basis that they’ve reclaimed, when they do all of that, they’re changing the operational landscape in the SCS,” he said.
“With regard to what China is doing differently, over the past few years, what they’ve done is reclaimed almost 3,000 acres of bases, military bases, in my opinion, in the South China Sea,” Harris added.
The statement of America’s top military commander in the Asia-Pacific region simultaneously came with the holding of a maritime conference with focus on China at the Dela Salle University, which was attended by top political and military thinkers in the region.
Aside from looking into Beijing’s expansive claims, both in the East and South China Sea, the meeting also delved into the activities of other contending countries and how these activities have generated territorial disputes and tensions in the region.
Harris said that the United States and its allies are challenging China’s declared sovereignty in the WPS, partly by putting up more patrols that would have bigger number of US ships sailed closer into the islets and reefs that it has occupied, including in the WPS.
“With regard to complexity, I think there are many things we could do in terms of increasing the complexity of these operations, such as picking other formations to go through, to go near, and the like,” Harris added.
The ships’ formations could be in the form or combination of destroyers, cruises, littoral-combat ships and even a carrier strike group, which the admiral said has always been in the SCS.
“So I think these, or any mix of these is a good combination of ships to have in the area. And we also bring carriers through the region, carrier strike groups and all that,” he said. Harris also raised the possibility that China will declare an air defense identification zone (Adiz), as it has done in the East China Sea, of which he is very much concerned, although he said it will never be followed by the US.
“With regard to Adiz, or air defense identification zone, I am concerned about the possibility that China might declare an Adiz,” he said.
“I’m concerned about it from the sense that I would find that to be destabilizing and provocative. We will, we would ignore it, just as we’ve ignored the Adiz that they put in place in the East China Sea,” he added.
As early as last year, Defense Secretary Voltaire T. Gazmin said that China was already practicing the imposition of an air zone in the West Philippine Sea through its continued challenge of not only Philippine patrols but even by commercial or civilian aircrafts.
In fact, he said an Adiz could have already been in place, although it was not formally or officially declared.
On Wednesday, Sen. John McCain, chairman of the US Senate Armed Services Committee, prodded the Obama administration to do more in checking China which is acting “more like a bully.”
“The United States must now consider fresh options to raise the costs on Beijing’s behavior. Shaping rather than reacting to Beijing’s actions will mean adopting policies with a level of risk that we have been unwilling to consider up to this point,” he said.