WASHINGTON (Sputnik) — US naval patrols in the South China Sea threaten Chinese sovereignty and are highly likely to spark a military confrontation between the two great powers, former US Ambassador Chas Freeman told Sputnik on Wednesday.
"If the United States continues to press China on this, as it says it intends to do, an eventual military clash is a strong possibility," Freeman said. "The US Navy justifies its freedom of navigation operations on narrow legal grounds, but the messaging about this set of operations has constituted a broad challenge to China's sovereignty."
On Tuesday, the head of US Navy Pacific Command said the United States would continue military patrols in the disputed waters of the South China Sea despite Chinese officials calling them a "blatant provocation."
"The United States cannot have it both ways," he added.
US activities in the South China Sea reflect a "ubiquitous narrative" in Washington that portrays Beijing as challenger of the international order, although, in reality, it seems as if the United States does not understand its own objectives.
"Washington strikes me as confused about what it is trying to accomplish with these sail-bys," Freeman concluded. "And if Washington is confused, how can Beijing not be?
On Tuesday, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter called on China and other countries to halt reclamation and militarization activities in the South Chan Sea.
China has been constructing artificial islands on top of the coral reef habitats of the Spratly Islands over the past year. Beijing claimed sovereignty over the land and the 12 nautical mile zone surrounding the islands.
The United States has repeatedly warned it does not recognize the Chinese claims of sovereignty over the man-made islands, and has raised concerns over Beijing’s activities in the region.
Ambassador Freeman served as US Deputy Chief of Mission and Chargé d’Affaires at the US embassies in Beijing and Bangkok. He was the State Department's Director for Chinese Affairs and also held several senior level positions at the US Department of Defense.