Daniel Kritenbrink, senior director for Asian affairs at the National Security Council, discussed China’s provocative military ambitions in the region during a forum at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.
“We are concerned that China has taken a number of unilateral steps over the last several years that we think raise tensions in the region and are destabilizing,” Kritenbrink said.
During a state visit in September, President Xi Jinping maintained that Beijing “does not intend to pursue militarization” in the Spratly Island chain.
Earlier this week, US Pacific Command chief Admiral Harry Harris said China was “changing the operational landscape of the region,” as reported by China Cheat Sheets.
The South China Sea serves as a passageway for a third of the world’s oil, and analysts suspect it is filled with untapped natural resources. China claims about all of the South China Sea. It is also claimed in whole or in part by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.
The Philippines is leading a lawsuit against China over territorial claims. The issue is being heard by an international court in The Hague, which is expected to make a ruling later this year.
Even though China doesn’t recognize the legitimacy of the court, Kritenbrink urges Beijing to respect its ruling.
“When that ruling comes out, it will be binding on both parties,” Kritenbrink said. “That will be an important moment that all of us in the region should focus on.”
In the past, the US Navy has conducted patrols in the region to uphold freedom-of-navigation laws in the region. Admiral Harris this week called for more such exercises.