22:19 GMT +325 September 2016
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Adm. Harry B. Harris, Jr., US Navy Commander, U.S. Pacific Command walks past a photograph showing an island that China is building on the Fiery Cross Reef in the South China Sea

US Navy to Boost Presence in Disputed South China Sea Region

© AP Photo/ Cliff Owen
Asia & Pacific
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As tensions escalate in the South China Sea, the US plans to increase its freedom-of-navigation (FON) operations through Chinese waters.

Last October, the Pentagon conducted its first FON in the South China Sea, sending the USS Lassen within the 12-mile territorial limit of Beijing’s artificial islands in the Spratly archipelago. The move elicited outrage from Chinese officials.

In response to Beijing’s deployment of missile systems into the region, the US Navy has stressed that it plans to increase its FON operations.

"We will be doing them more, and we’ll be doing them with greater complexity in the future…and we’ll fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows," Admiral Harry Harris, head of the US Navy’s Pacific Command, told the US House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday.

"We must continue to operate in the South China Sea to demonstrate that that water space and the air above it is international."

During his address, the admiral also accused China of using the artificial islands to "militarize" the region.

Woody Island, a island in the South China Sea occupied by China and claimed by several other countries, is shown in satellite images taken on February 14, 2016 and February 3, 2016, in this handout image provided by ImageSat International N.V. 2016, on February 18, 2016
© REUTERS/ ImageSat International N.V. 2016

"[China is] clearly militarizing the South China Sea," he said. "You’ve have to believe in a flat Earth to think otherwise."

Beijing has maintained that it has every right to build within what it considers to be its own territory, and that the islands will be used primarily for humanitarian purposes.

While FON operations by patrol ships and surveillance planes have already escalated tensions, Harris indicated that the Pentagon could increase its military presence in the region.

"We could consider putting another (attack) submarine out there, we could put additional  destroyers forward…there are a lot of things we could do, short of putting a full carrier strike group in the Western Pacific," Harris said.

The admiral’s comments come amid an official visit to Washington by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who earlier this week stressed the need for calm.

"The South China Sea islands have historically been China’s territory. China has a right to uphold its territorial integrity and lawful, legitimate maritime rights and interests," he said during a joint press conference with US Secretary of State John Kerry.

"At the same time, we are committed to resolving the disputes through dialogue and negotiation in a peaceful way."

China lays claim to most of the highly disputed region, and there are overlapping claims by Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei, and Taiwan. Nearly $5 trillion in trade passes through the South China Sea annually.

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Tags:
territorial claims, freedom of navigation, land reclamation, Chinese Foreign Ministry, US Navy, Pentagon, Harry Harris Jr, Wang Yi, John Kerry, Spratly archipelago, South China Sea, China, United States
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  • espenskrdal
    In other words - the US wants a war. This is not a surprise, considering that the US is the most warmongering nation on earth.
  • Mitach2002
    Big deal, can't do a thing about it. Suck it.
  • michael
    it really is just like watching very young children in the kindergarten play area...
  • America will come to regret being an international bully!
  • Bob Hofererin reply tomichael(Show commentHide comment)
    michael, Only, most young children show some respect for others. But remember, Obama and the US are only showing their EXCELLENCE.
  • ivanwa88
    Increased sabre rattling nonsense to enhance the imperialists on the candidates list for Presidency, one Hillary who has zero chance! US is not pushing for military confrontation they are mearly getting points for pushing the envelope for US domestic support and keeping the fire light abroad! nothing more here folks......move on!
  • Marc Nonnenkamp
    The countries in the region should not allow the USA to increase its military presence in the region. Case in point with President Benigno "Noy-noy" Aquino of the Liberal Party of Philippines. Just recently Ferdinand "Bong-bong" Marcos, Jr. (son of the late Nationalist President Ferdinand Marcos, Sr.) said that the Philippines must not antagonize Mainland China over this issue - in this he is absolutely correct. But he must face up to the transgressions of his father by admitting them as having been very, very wrong. If he makes this step, then he may be good enough to be considered for national office in the Philippines.
  • surferket
    So who is militarising the region?
  • surferketin reply toMarc Nonnenkamp(Show commentHide comment)
    Marc Nonnenkamp,
    All ASEAN leaders not onboard with US coalition against China are under huge behind the scene pressure.
  • Just a bunch of bullying ass-clowns! Lying psychopaths! End of subject.
  • Randall Lee Hilburnin reply tomichael(Show commentHide comment)
    michael, There needs to be a new definition for "international" added to the dictionary. It should be "US Controlled."

    Without air cover the submarine and the destroyers especially will be the proverbial sitting ducks. They would be bait. If the Chinese snap it up then the US will have the war they want., and they will blame China for starting it.
  • michaelin reply toRandall Lee Hilburn(Show commentHide comment)
    Randall, similar to the provocations with the Japanese prior to '41?
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