SEOUL • A top US Navy admiral said yesterday that he joined a routine surveillance flight over the disputed South China Sea on Saturday and that the US is committed to freedom of navigation in the region.
Admiral Scott Swift, commander of the US Pacific Fleet, confirmed at a press roundtable in Seoul that he had been aboard the seven-hour flight of a Boeing P-8 surveillance plane, but gave no specific details about the flight.
In May, Beijing called a P-8 surveillance flight carrying a CNN team over the South China Sea "irresponsible and dangerous".
Adm Swift said his flight was routine, like the earlier CNN flight, and did not say if China responded to Saturday's patrol.
China's defence and foreign ministries did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
"We have forces deployed throughout the region to demonstrate the United States' commitment to freedom of navigation," said Adm Swift, adding that the flight allowed him to see first-hand new operational capabilities in the fleet. He said communications with China at sea were "positive and structured".
China has almost finished building a 3km-long airstrip on one of its artificial islands in the disputed Spratly archipelago of the South China Sea, according to satellite imagery of the area.
Beijing claims most of the South China Sea, with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and others holding overlapping claims.
Washington has demanded China halt land reclamation and militarisation of the disputed area and to pursue a peaceful resolution according to international law.
"There are forces of instability at play in the region, and that's generating uncertainty," said Adm Swift.
"I am concerned about the forces of destabilisation that appear to be more current here," he added.