US weighs more naval patrols in South China Sea to counter China: Officials
Iran Press TV
Sun Jun 3, 2018 09:27AM
The United States is considering intensified naval patrols in the South China Sea to counter what it sees as China's militarization of the strategic waterway, a move that could further increase tensions with Beijing, officials say.
The Pentagon is planning to step up its program of so-called freedom-of-navigation operations close to Chinese installations on disputed reefs, two US officials and Western and Asian diplomats close to discussions told Reuters.
The officials did not say how close Washington was to finalizing a decision.
In addition, US officials are encouraging allies to increase their naval operations in the South China Sea to monitor Chinese facilities in the region.
"What we have seen in the last few weeks is just the start, significantly more is being planned," said one Western diplomat, referring to a patrol late last month in which two US warships sailed near islands claimed by China.
"There is a real sense more needs to be done."
Critics say the patrols have little impact on Beijing and mask the lack of a broader strategy to deal with the growing influence of China.
At an international security forum in Singapore on Saturday, Defense Secretary James Mattis accused China of intimidating others in the region by installing weapons systems on its man-made islands.
Backing the remarks by his defense secretary, President Donald Trump said on Twitter, "Very surprised that China would be doing this?"
The Pentagon chief said the Trump administration's recent decision to withdraw an invitation for Chinese forces to join a multinational naval exercise off Hawaii later in the year was an "initial response" to Beijing's island activity.
"There are consequences that will continue to come home to roost, so to speak, with China, if they don't find a way to work more collaboratively with all of the nations who have interests," Mattis said.
China has repeatedly warned the US against sending warships to patrol the South China Sea. Washington claims such operations are meant to protect "freedom of navigation" in the sea, a gateway for trillions of dollars in maritime trade each year.
Experts studying China cite these operations as a reason behind the deployment by China of defensive facilities in the region.
A top Chinese general said Saturday that China had the right to deploy troops and weapons "on its own territory."
Speaking at the same conference in Singapore, Lt Gen He Lei said, "Any irresponsible comments from other countries cannot be accepted."
Vietnam and the Philippines expressed concern last month after China's air force landed bombers on the islands and reefs in the South China Sea as part of a training exercise in the area.
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