KUALA LUMPUR • Recent US naval accidents in the Asia-Pacific region will not interrupt freedom of navigation operations in the disputed South China Sea, the US Pacific Air Forces commander said yesterday.
USS John S. McCain collided with a merchant vessel in Singapore waters this week, the fourth major accident involving the US Pacific fleet this year. The guided-missile destroyer had sailed within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island built by China in the South China Sea earlier this month, in the latest freedom of navigation operation to counter what the United States sees as China's efforts to control the waters.
General Terrence J. O'Shaughnessy, who is visiting Malaysia and other countries in the region this week, said the collision of the USS John S. McCain should not overshadow the defence capability the US brings to the region.
"There is no setback to the operations following these incidents," he said. "We stand firm that we are going to sail and fly anywhere where international rules allow."
Beijing has been upset with the US freedom of navigation operations near Chinese-controlled islands, where China has been reclaiming land, building air bases and increasing its military presence.
Tensions also mounted in the Asia-Pacific this month as North Korea threatened to fire missiles towards Guam. Gen O'Shaughnessy said the US took this threat "incredibly seriously". "This is a serious time in the relations with North Korea... We are ready to respond at a moment's notice," he said.
The US flew two supersonic B-1B bombers over the Korean peninsula earlier this month in a show of force. They took off from a US air base in Guam and were joined by Japanese and South Korean fighter jets.
The general said any more such responses would depend on what North Korea does.
Tensions between both countries eased slightly over the last few days and US President Donald Trump expressed optimism about a possible improvement in relations.
But on Thursday, North Korea indicated it was working on an intercontinental ballistic missile more powerful than any it has tested.
Gen O'Shaughnessy said North Korea had the ability to advance its capabilities. "That is our concern... We are not going to accept a nuclear tipped ICBM pointed at the United States from North Korea. That's been stated by our President and that is something we feel very strongly about," he said.