US 'plans to patrol South China Sea twice every quarter'

A medical training exercise on the deck of the USS Lassen in the South China Sea last Wednesday. Washington made its most significant challenge yet to China's claims last week by sending the guided-missile destroyer through territorial limits China a
A medical training exercise on the deck of the USS Lassen in the South China Sea last Wednesday. Washington made its most significant challenge yet to China's claims last week by sending the guided-missile destroyer through territorial limits China asserts around artificial islands it is building there.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON • The United States Navy plans to conduct patrols within 12 nautical miles of artificial islands in the South China Sea about twice a quarter to remind China and other countries about US rights under international law, a US defence official has said.

"We're going to come down to about twice a quarter or a little more than that... That's the right amount to make it regular but not a constant poke in the eye. It meets the intent to regularly exercise our rights under international law and remind the Chinese and others about our view," the official, who was not authorised to speak publicly about navy operational plans, said on Monday.

Separately, US Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said that there would be more demonstrations of the US military's commitment to the right to freely navigate in the region.

"That's our interest there... It's to demonstrate that we will uphold the principle of freedom of navigation," Mr Rhodes said on Monday at an event hosted by the Defense One media outlet.

In Beijing, Admiral Harry Harris, the commander of the US Pacific Command, reiterated that the US military would continue to operate "wherever" international law allows.

WHEREVER THE LAW ALLOWS

International seas and airspace belong to everyone and are not the dominion of any single nation. Our military will continue to fly, sail and operate whenever and wherever international law allows. The South China Sea is not - and will not - be an exception.

ADMIRAL HARRY HARRIS, the commander of the US Pacific Command, in a speech yesterday at the Stanford Centre at Peking University

"International seas and airspace belong to everyone and are not the dominion of any single nation," he said in a speech yesterday at the Stanford Centre at Peking University.

"Our military will continue to fly, sail and operate whenever and wherever international law allows. The South China Sea is not - and will not - be an exception," he added.

The US officials' remarks come a week after the United States infuriated China by sailing close to artificial islands it is building in the South China Sea.

China's naval commander last week told his US counterpart that a minor incident could spark war in the disputed waterway if the United States did not stop its "provocative acts".

Adm Harris' statement in the Chinese capital is seen as a mark of US resolve over the issue.

Beijing claims sovereignty over almost the whole of the sea on the basis of a segmented line that first appeared on Chinese maps in the 1940s.

Adm Harris described the claim as "ambiguous". Washington has repeatedly said that it does not recognise Chinese claims to territorial waters around the artificial islands.

But he tempered his comments with conciliatory remarks, praising US-China ties and pointing out that Chinese and US ships were visiting ports in each other's countries.

"Some pundits predict a coming clash between our nations. I do not ascribe to this pessimistic view," Adm Harris said.

US Vice-Admiral John Aquilino, deputy chief of naval operations for operations, plans and strategies, declined to comment about when the next patrols would take place.

"We do operations like that all the time around the world. That will continue for us," he told Reuters. "We'll just keep going."

Meanwhile, US Defence Secretary Ash Carter may visit a US Navy ship during his trip to Asia, but is not expected to be on board during any navy freedom-of-navigation operations, a US defence official said.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 04, 2015, with the headline 'US 'plans to patrol South China Sea twice every quarter''. Print Edition | Subscribe