The Dallas Morning News
U.S. Navy undeterred by Chinese-built islands
Carrier officer says forces will continue to patrol disputed waters
ABOARD USS CARL VINSON, Philippines — A Navy officer aboard a U.S. aircraft carrier brimming with F-18 fighter jets said Saturday that U.S. forces would continue to patrol the South China Sea wherever “international law allows us.”
Lt. Cmdr. Tim Hawkins had been asked whether China’s newly built islands and its projection of military force in the area would restrain U.S. activity in the disputed waters.
“International law allows us to operate here, allows us to fly here, allows us to train here, allows us to sail here, and that’s what we’re doing, and we’re going to continue to do that,” Hawkins said on the flight deck of the 95,000-ton USS Carl Vinson, which was anchored at Manila Bay while on a visit to the Philippines.
Hawkins said the Navy had carried out routine patrols at sea and on air in the strategic waters for 70 years to promote regional security and to guarantee unimpeded trade that is crucial for Asian and U.S. economies.
When President Donald Trump came to power, Southeast Asian officials were uncertain whether the U.S. would remain involved in the issues in the South China Sea. Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, was a vocal critic of China’s increasingly aggressive actions to assert its territorial claims.
“We’re committed,” Hawkins said. “We’re here.”
In December, the Trump administration outlined a new security strategy that emphasized countering China’s rise and reinforcing the U.S. presence in the Indo-Pacific region, where Beijing and Washington have accused each other of stoking a dangerous military buildup.
Washington stakes no claims in the disputed region but has declared that the peaceful resolution of the long-raging disputes, along with the maintenance of freedom of navigation and overflight, are in its national interest.
U.S. officials have said U.S. warships will continue the socalled freedom of navigation operations, which challenge China’s territorial claims to virtually the entire South China Sea, including seven artificial islands China built mostly from submerged reefs in the Spratly archipelago. The U.S. operations place Washington on a continuing collision course with China’s interests in the volatile region.
In January, China accused the U.S. of trespassing in its territorial waters when the guided-missile destroyer USS Hopper sailed near Scarborough Shoal, which is claimed by both China and the Philippines. After making a strong protest, China said it would take “necessary measures” to protect its sovereignty.