The U.S. Navy is standing its ground and said it will not leave the South China Sea despite new Chinese military facilities on artificial islands in the region.
A senior Navy officer told The Associated Press on Saturday that international law allowed the Navy to be in the sea — and nothing is going to change that.
Lt. Cmdr. Tim Hawkins responded to a question regarding China’s newly built islands, which the nation appears to be using to strengthen its military force in the region.
China has fortified the region with 12 missile shelters on the islands and nearly finished structures believed to house long-range surface-to-air missiles on three islands in the area, Reuters reported.
Photographs obtained by the Asian media outlet Inquirer.net showed that communication facilities, hangars, runways, lighthouses and multi-story buildings had also been built on the islands. The photos also suggested a “consistent presence of cargo vessels,” which experts believed to be transporting construction supplies to the islands.
Aerial photos ‘point to new Chinese signals hub’ in the heart of the South China Sea; northeastern corner of Fiery Cross Reef was now equipped with a communications or sensor array bigger than those found on other artificial islands in the Spratlys. https://t.co/tEUwdfq63g pic.twitter.com/jPPFFzFEcs
— Kevin McCauley (@knmccauley1) February 17, 2018
The United States has criticized the facilities and has expressed concerned that they could be used to restrict free movement through the region.
China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei have all claimed ownership of the area, which includes vital international shipping lanes.
Lt. Cmdr. Hawkins, on board the nuclear-powered USS Carl Vinson, said the Navy has carried out routine patrols in the South China Sea for 70 years, and there was no immediate plan to stop those patrols.
“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 told the AP.
“We’re committed,” he said. “We’re here.
He went to explain the importance of patrolling the area.
“We’re prepared to conduct a spectrum of operations, whether that’s providing humanitarian assistance, disaster relief in the time of an emergency, or whether we have to conduct operations that require us to send strike fighters ashore,” Hawkins said. “We don’t have to use that spectrum, but we’re ready to, in case we need to.”
That last sentence should be chilling for Chinese navy commanders — “we’re ready to, in case we need to.” It’s an implied threat of what could happen if the United States is pressed to hard — and it’s a threat the Chinese should understand very well.
The AP reported that U.S. officials have also maintained American warships will continue navigation operations challenging China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.
This move is one of many strong positions the Trump administration has taken with China, letting the nation know where we stand regarding its aggressive activity in the volatile area.
And that we’re not giving ground.
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