Navy will challenge Chinese territorial claims in South China Sea

Discussion in 'East Asia & The Pacific' started by F-22, Oct 7, 2015.

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  1. F-22

    F-22 2nd Lieutenant

    Oct 7, 2015
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    The Navy is preparing to send a surface ship inside the12-nautical-mile territorial limit China claims for its man-made island chain, an action that could take place within days but awaits final approval from the Obama administration, according to military officials who spoke to Navy Times.

    Plans to send a warship through the contested space have been rumored since May, but three Pentagon officials who spoke to Navy Times on background to discuss future operations say Navy officials believe approval of the mission is imminent.

    If approved, it would be the first time since 2012 that the U.S. Navy has directly challenged China's claims to the islands' territorial limits.

    The land reclamation projects in the vicinity of the Spratly Islands have been the focus of increasing tensions between China and United States along with its regional allies, including the Philippines, since reports of the land reclamation project began surfacing in 2013. However, the U.S. and other nations have disputed the legitimacy of the islands built by China in what is viewed as an act of regional aggression.

    A spokesman for the National Security Council deferred questions regarding the Navy's plans to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, but drew attention to President Obama's remarks before the U.N. General Assembly Sept. 28, where he said the U.S. has "an interest in upholding the basic principles of freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce, and in resolving disputes through international law, not the law of force."

    OSD spokesman Cmdr. Bill Urban declined to comment on future operations, but referred to Defense Secretary Ash Carter's comments from Sept. 1, when he said that the "United States will fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows, as we do all around the world."

    The news of the pending maneuver comes just a day after Pacific Fleet boss Adm. Scott Swift told a maritime conference in Australia that "some nations" were behaving in a manner inconsistent with international law, a clear reference to the ongoing dispute with China.

    "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 said, according to a report by Reuters. "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."

    In September, David Shear, assistant secretary of defense for Asia-Pacific security, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the U.S. Navy hadn't steamed or flown within 12 nautical miles of the islands since 2012, which is beforeChina's island construction project began in earnest. Six nations with South China Sea coasts have competing claims to the territory being staked out by China's island building.

    Later that day, House Armed Services Committee member Randy Forbes, R-Va. sent a letter signed by a bipartisan group of 29 House members calling the island-building project a threat to freedom of navigation and the peaceful international order in place since the end of World War II.

    "In order to deter these actions and prevent further erosion of stability in the region, the United States must make clear that it is fully committed to maintaining freedom of navigation in the South China Sea," the letter read, calling for a "highly symbolic" passage of Navy ships and aircraft past the islands to send a message to China.

    When reports that the U.S. was planning to challenge China's island claims surfaced in May, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson urged "relevant countries to refrain from taking risky and provocative action," according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

    Bryan Clark, a retired submarine officer and analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said that passage through territorial waters is a routine Navy operation typically used to build a legal case under international law for freedom of navigation in international waters, and right of innocent passage within territorial waters.

    Innocent passage, the right of a state to pass through the territorial waters of another, is usually conducted with little fanfare. But what makes the planned passage through China's newly claimed territorial waters significant is that the administration had previously prohibited the Navy from doing it in the Spratly Islands, Clark said.

    "If you act like they have a legal 12-mile limit, even though the U.S. has said it doesn't recognize it, you are tacitly acknowledging those claims as legitimate," Clark said, adding that even if the claims were legitimate, the U.S. would have the right to pass through under the right of innocent passage.

    The Chinese government claimed the same right when its navy's ships passed within 12 nautical miles of the U.S.-held Aleutian Islands off Alaska In September, after a joint exercise with the Russian military.

    The U.S. and China's neighbors in the region are concerned that China is creating military installations on the islands. In June, images surfaced of a nearly complete 10,000-foot-long airstrip on one of the islands, big enough to accommodate military aircraft.

    China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, a position that has put it at loggerheads with its neighbors and prompted countries in the region, including erstwhile enemies such as Vietnam, to turn to the U.S. to offset the newly aggressive China.

    China's actions have also prompted renewed military-to-military relations with the Philippines, more than two decades after the U.S. was kicked out of the country following a wave of anti-American sentiment inside the former U.S. colony.

    An agreement signed last year that allows U.S. forces to use Philippine military facilities has been a signature accomplishment in the Obama administration's strategic pivot to Asia.
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  2. AMDR

    AMDR Captain Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 7, 2015
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    Third Fleet May Help Enforce Freedom of Navigation in South China Sea

    The littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth conducted routine patrols in international waters of the South China Sea near the Spratly Islands May 11, 2015, as the People’s Liberation Army-Navy guided-missile frigate Yancheng sails behind. Conor Minto/Navy

    [​IMG]Oct 09, 2015 | by Brendan McGarry
    SAN FRANCISCO -- The commander of the U.S. Navy’s Third Fleet said the fleet may help enforce freedom of navigation near China’s man-made islands in the South China Sea.

    Vice Admiral Nora Tyson said Third Fleet, which is headquartered at Naval Base Point Loma in San Diego, and Seventh Fleet, based at U.S. Fleet Activities in Yokosuka, Japan, represent the sea service’s Pacific Fleet and would work together if ordered to enforce freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.

    “Absolutely,” she said on Friday when asked whether vessels under her command could help carry out such a mission. “Third Fleet ships can easily operate in the Western Pacific … because they're all Navy ships and it's just a matter of who they're reporting to, so it really is somewhat transparent.”

    Tyson was traveling here as part of the city’s 35th annual Fleet Week, a weeklong celebration of the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. Her comments came a day after news reports that the U.S. is considering sailing warships close to China’s artificial islands in the South China Sea to signal it doesn’t recognize the territorial claims over the area.

    The Navy hasn't sailed or flown near the disputed territory since 2012, Defense Department officials testified last month.

    The last time the service conducted a freedom of navigation operation within a dozen nautical miles of islands in the region was three years ago, David Shear, assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs at the Pentagon, told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

    The littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) in May conducted patrols in international waters of the South China Sea near the Spratly Islands as the People's Liberation Army-Navy guided-missile frigate Yancheng sailed close behind, according to information released by the Defense Department at the time.

    Navy Adm. Harry Harris, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, also during testimony said he disagreed with a Chinese admiral who was quoted as saying the South China Sea “belongs to China.”

    "I agree that the South China Sea is no more China's than the Gulf of Mexico is Mexico's," Harris said at the time.

    “I think that we must exercise our freedom of navigation throughout the region and part of our responsibility as Pacific Command commander is to give options to the president and the secretary," he added, referring to President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter. "And those options are being considered and will execute as directed by the president and the secretary."

    Tyson, the Third Fleet commander, said she’s working with Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, the head of Seventh Fleet, under the direction of Adm. Scott Swift, in charge of Pacific Fleet, to operate ships beyond the International Date Line and blur that line of demarcation between the two areas of responsibility.

    “We are working together every day to ensure that we complement each other. We understand the Pacific Ocean and what our roles are and how we can complement each other in any scenario,” she said. “Likewise, Third Fleet is partnering with Seventh fleet to ensure that if we had a more complicated scenario, if you will, that we could work together very easily.”

    Chinese navy ships last month were spotted off the coast of Alaska for the first time. The discovery came the same week China held a massive military parade in Beijing to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Japanese surrender during World War II and highlighted its ambition to become a global military power.

    A Pentagon official declined to identify the names of the vessels but said they included three combatant ships, one amphibious landing vessel and one replenishment ship. The ships were sailing in international waters in the Bering Sea and at one point reportedly came within 12 nautical miles of the U.S. coast.

    When asked about the incident, Tyson said, “One of the most important things in the world is free flow commerce -- that's what keeps the world going. It's about ensuring that countries around the world have a stable environment, a stable economy, and we depend on the free flow of commerce at sea , so we practice freedom of navigation.”

    She added, “We're going to keep doing our job and ensure that free flow of commerce around the world for ourselves and for our partners.”
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