WASHINGTON • The US military's top general has said Chinese President Xi Jinping reneged on promises not to militarise the South China Sea, and urged "collective action" to hold Beijing responsible.
General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Pentagon's Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he was not calling for military action, but stressed the need to enforce international laws.
"The fall of 2016, President Xi Jinping promised President (Barack) Obama that they would not militarise the islands. So what we see today are 10,000-ft runways, ammunition storage facilities, routine deployment of missile defence capabilities, aviation capabilities, and so forth," Gen Dunford said in a talk at the Brookings Institution on Wednesday.
He said China had since walked away from the commitment.
"The South China Sea is, in my judgment, not a pile of rocks," he continued, referring to the series of reefs and outcrops that have been claimed as territory by China, reclaimed and expanded to house military forces and large aircraft.
"What is at stake in the South China Sea and elsewhere where there are territorial claims is the rule of law, international laws, norms and standards," he said.
"When we ignore actions that are not in compliance with international rules, norms and standards, we have just set a new standard."
The US has been unable to stall China's military colonisation of the South China Sea. The waterway is also claimed by Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and the Philippines.
The US has sent navy vessels through areas claimed by China as part of "freedom of navigation operations", but has otherwise found responding difficult.