09:06 GMT04 August 2020
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    The Monday collision of the USS John S. McCain with a Liberian oil tanker will not impact the American doctrine of “freedom of navigation” in the disputed South China Sea, according to the commander of US Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) on Friday.

    General Terrence J. O'Shaughnessy issued a statement during his visit to Malaysia about the collision. "There is no setback to the operations following these incidents," O'Shaughnessy said. "We stand firm that we are going to sail and fly anywhere where international rules allow."

    The USS McCain has been deployed in the South China Sea since late 2016, a show of American strength in the sea that is disputed by 10 different nations — including China.

    To consolidate their claims in the strategically and economically significant region, China has built numerous artificial islands in the South China Sea. Earlier in August, the McCain came within 14 miles of Mischief Reef, one such Chinese artificial island.

    Later that month, in a bizarre incident that still hasn't been explained, the McCain collided with the Liberian Alnic MC off the coast of Malaysia, leading to significant damage and the deaths of two US sailors.

    China and the United States have butted heads over the South China Sea time and again since 2010 when then-US President Barack Obama threw his weight behind the "freedom of navigation" doctrine — a doctrine continued by Obama's successor Donald Trump. The doctrine stipulates that the US would formally remain neutral in any territory disputes, but enforce that ships be allowed to sail through the South China Sea without aggrievement. 

    China, which claims the South China Sea as their territory, considers the movement of foreign ships through the sea as a violation of their territory. The United States has maintained a persistent naval presence in the South China Sea since 2015, with only a brief break in the spring of 2017 as a potential concession to China in exchange for Beijing putting more pressure on North Korea.

    After the US stepped away from that strategy, military operations resumed in the South China Sea.

    O'Shaugnessy also discussed North Korea, specifically Pyongyang's threat to attack the US Pacific territory of Guam in July. He said that the US took the threats "incredibly seriously."

    "This is a serious time in the relations with North Korea … We are ready to respond at a moment's notice."

    After signs of a thaw between the US and North Korea, the Pyongyang indicated earlier in August that they were working on more advanced nuclear weapons, including an improved intercontinental ballistic missile. 

    "That is our concern … we are not going to accept a nuclear-tipped ICBM pointed at the United States from North Korea; that's been stated by our president and that is something we feel very strongly about," said O'Shaughnessy.


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    South China Sea dispute, freedom of navigation, collision, USS John McCain, US Pacific Air Forces (PACAF), US Pacific Command (PACOM), Terrence O'Shaughnessy, Democratic Republic of North Korea (DPRK), South China Sea, China
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