Singapore Airshow 2016

Our flights follow agreed rules: US commander

The United States Pacific Command Air Forces (Pacaf) will continue to fly anywhere that it is allowed to under international laws, even close to disputed areas of the South China Sea.

Pacaf's commander, General Lori Robinson, has told The Straits Times that flights the US has conducted so far comply with a set of rules of behaviour for the safety of air-to-air encounters that was agreed upon and signed by Washington and Beijing last September.

"We fly through this airspace all the time," said Gen Robinson. "We go through the airspace on training missions, we go through the airspace with all different kinds of aircraft. There is no pressure for me to do one thing or another, except to obey by the international rules and norms."

China's territorial claims to several islands are contested by Taiwan and four Asean countries - Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and the Philippines. Beijing has also been reclaiming land and putting weapons on a reclaimed reef. Last month, it even conducted test flights on a disputed reef, stoking tensions in the region.

Since being put in charge of US air forces in the Pacific in October 2014, Gen Robinson, 56, said she has met the People's Liberation Army Air Force commander Ma Xiaotian twice and both sides had "very long conversations" about abiding by the rules. She noted that both Chinese and American pilots have been "professional" so far.

Meanwhile, Gen Robinson pledged continued commitment by the US to this part of the world, saying that "our presence here helps our partnership in this region".

She said that Pacaf will continue to step up its ties with regional militaries, including Singapore's, and take part in more joint training.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 17, 2016, with the headline 'Our flights follow agreed rules: US commander'. Print Edition | Subscribe