The United States has issued China another clear cut warning and has warned it from threatening the stability of the controversial ocean while reiterating its commitment to keeping stability in the Asia-Pacific region.
Admiral Scott Swift, who serves as the commander of the US Pacific Fleet, blamed some countries for imposing restrictions on the freedom of navigation in a barb that was obviously aimed at China.
Speaking to reporters in Australia, the Admiral said that some states view freedom of seas as something they can wrench from the world by exploiting international law of seas.
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“It’s my sense that some nations view freedom of the seas as up for grabs, as something that can be taken down and redefined by domestic law or by reinterpreting international law,” Swift told a maritime conference in Sydney.
“Some nations continue to impose superfluous warnings and restrictions on freedom of the seas in their exclusive economic zones and claim territorial water rights that are inconsistent with (the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea). This trend is particularly egregious in contested waters.”
For months, China has insisted that it has sovereignty over almost all of the South China Sea and has accused Washington for meddling in regional issues and stirring up a storm when there is none. Moreover, China has been in conflict with Japan over claims in the East China Sea.
To date, US has not recognized China’s sovereignty in the disputed waters and in a bid to challenge Beijing’s claims, has sent surveillance aircraft and warships near the disputed territory.
Swift is of the opinion that US will continue exercising freedom of all seas for every state in the world because it feels itself obliged to do so if a country’s maritime interests are ignored or discarded.
Since 2011, Obama administration has pursued its policy of advertising the Asia-Pacific region as fundamental to what it is trying to achieve in the region.
However, it is clear that USA’s allies are not really looking to go for coercive measures in a bid to tame China’s exploits. Australian Navy supremo, Vice-Admiral Tim Barret says that the issue of South China Sea is a very complicated and that it should be talked about. Given that Australian troops and flyers are regularly operating in and around Syria (coupled with Russia’s intervention), Barret does not feel that the forces are under duress due to the South China Sea issue.
Tensions did build up back in June when China tested hypersonic glide vehicles that are capable of carrying nuclear weapons. This was the fourth time the missiles had been tested in 18 months and many in US viewed it as a sign of aggression from Beijing. However, China has categorically denied it as a show of force and to this day, insists that those tests were very normal in nature and were not directed at any particular country.
However, Philippines responded to the tests a month later by stationing fighter jets and frigates on a naval base that was operated by US in the past. Apart from Philippines, Brunei, Taiwan, Malaysia and Vietnam also have a stake in the region which is why this issue has not been resolved so far.
Japan has also waded into these waters on numerous occasions and has blamed China for acting “unilaterally and without compromise”.
Many have found Australia’s concerns about the South China Sea issue as surprising. However, countries like Australia are at a risk of being dragged into the conflict either through a direct war or being caught in the middle which will be a serious diplomatic headache for Canberra since it will find it really hard to balance its economic interests in Asia while at the sam time, keeping up with the defense agreement it has with US.
According to the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) Deputy Dean of Global and Language Studies Professor Joseph Siracussa, South China is an “eight-and-half out of ten” in terms of becoming a dangerous region.
Siracussa believes that although a possible for in the region might not be a nuclear war but it will be a really big mess which will see Australia and its neighbors dragged into.
According to recent sattelite imagery, Chinese engineers are working for a third airstrip in the contested territory. These images have also shown that the strip is going to be around 3,000 meter while a lot of work is also being done on building port facilities for the ships. These airstrips are likely to be enough to accommodate most Chinese military aircrafts and will give the country a great base of operations to conduct its maritime activity in Southeast Asia. The new airstrip at the Mischief Reef will be a serious cause for concern for Philippines as this will allow China to mount regular patrols over the Reed Bank where Philippines has been exploring for oil and gas for years.