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US ‘Playing’ in China Maritime Standoff, Not Backing Free Navigation

© Flickr / U.S. Pacific FleetU.S. Navy ships are underway as part of a group sail with the John C. Stennis Strike Group (JCSSG). Group sails provide an opportunity for crews to focus on teamwork, communication and hone skills Sailors need when executing the nation's maritime strategy
U.S. Navy ships are underway as part of a group sail with the John C. Stennis Strike Group (JCSSG). Group sails provide an opportunity for crews to focus on teamwork, communication and hone skills Sailors need when executing the nation's maritime strategy - Sputnik International
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US freedom of navigation exercises have been too infrequent to demonstrate the resolve needed to dissuade China from continuing its militarization of the South China Sea, US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker said on Wednesday.

WASHINGTON (Sputnik) — The United States has conducted several freedom of navigation drills in the past year, in which US vessels sail within the 12 miles of Chinese bases build on reclaimed land in the Spratly and Parcel Island chains.

"China views [US patrols] solely as a light touch, symbolic effort and I have no idea why we’re not cruising within those 12 nautical miles on a weekly basis," Corker stated at a committee hearing on Sino-US relations.

US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter participated in the most recent exercise earlier this month on board the John C. Stennis aircraft carrier.

However, Corker claimed the patrols were too infrequent to influence Chinese officials alter its activities in the key waterway that contains some of the world’s busiest international shipping lanes.

Spratly group of islands in the South China Sea, west of Palawan - Sputnik International
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The Chinese "know what we are doing is playing," Corker explained. "It’s evident that there’s not much seriousness and really pushing on this freedom of navigation issue when we have 60 percent of our [US Navy] vessels in the region and once a quarter we take them within 12 nautical miles" of Chinese installations.

At the hearing, US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the exercises in the South China See would continue, but he gave no indication that the frequency of patrols would increase.

Earlier this month, Carter said the United States would expand joint patrols with the Philippine Navy to reinforce claims that the South China Sea is an international waterway.

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