TeleSUR & Jim Sciutto and Katie Hunt / CNN & Sui-Lee Wee / Reuters – 2015-10-27 20:58:39
US Violates China’s Waters;
Beijing Warns Against Provocations
(October 27, 2015) — The Chinese government says it is prepared to respond to any provocations that put peace in the region at risk.
China angrily lashed out at the United States because, despite various warnings, one of its warships violated the sovereignty of Chinese territorial waters in the South China Sea. The Chinese government told Washington these actions put peace and stability in the region at risk and that it is prepared to respond to any acts of provocation by any country.
“The Chinese side is ready to give an appropriate response to any country’s provocations,” Chinese state-owned news agency Xinhua quoted the government as saying.
“These actions of the US warship are a threat to the sovereignty and security of China, and safety of people living on the islands,” said the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
A US military source, who asked not to be identified, admitted to the Associated Press that a US Navy ship had in fact sailed into China’s territorial waters in the South China Sea, near artificial islands the Asian country built on top of reefs in the Spratly Islands.
Far from apologizing, the US Navy told Reuters additional similar patrols would follow and said that the USS Lassen destroyer that violated China waters was accompanied by one or two US Navy surveillance planes.
The USS Lassen passed within 12 nautical miles of the Subi and Mischief reefs, which belong to the Spratly archipelago, over which China claims sovereignty. The reefs were initially submerged before China carried out an ambitious dredging project, turning them into islands.
“China consistently respects and defends the freedom of navigation and flight of any country in accordance with international law. However, it firmly opposes any country harming China’s sovereignty and security under the pretext of freedom of navigation and flight,” Beijing said, according to Xinhua.
The Chinese government said it resolutely defends the sovereignty, security and rights to territorial waters under international law.
According to Xinhua, the US violation of its territorial waters threatens to increase the tensions between both countries weeks ahead of several Asia-Pacific summits scheduled for late November. The presidents of China, Xi Jinping, and of the US, Barack Obama, are expected to attend those meetings.
A US defense official told CNN that USS Lassen’s mission had the approval of Obama.
“We advise the US side to think twice before action, not to conduct any rash action, and not to create trouble out of nothing,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who confirmed the US warship had breached the 12-mile zone.
In May, a US surveillance plane carrying a CNN crew swooped over the Spratly Islands, triggering eight warnings from the Chinese navy to back off.
China Says It Warned and Tracked
US Warship in South China Sea
Jim Sciutto and Katie Hunt / CNN
(October 27, 2015) — China said it warned and tracked a U.S. Navy warship as it came close to one of its artificial islands in the South China Sea’s contested waters.
Cui Tiankai, Chinese ambassador to the United States, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday that the U.S. operation is “a very serious provocation, politically and militarily.” Cui said it was a clear attempt by Washington to militarize the region.
“It is a very absurd and even hypocritical position to ask others not to militarize the region while one’s self is sending military vessels there so frequently,” he said. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the vessel “illegally entered into the waters of China’s Spratly Islands.”
“The action taken by the U.S. warship has threatened China’s sovereignty and security interest, and has put the safety of personnel on the reefs in danger,” a ministry statement said.
Two Chinese warships and naval warplanes monitored and warned the American vessel, the Defense Ministry said. A U.S. defense official told CNN that the destroyer USS Lassen “conducted a transit” within 12 nautical miles of Subi Reef in the Spratly Islands on Tuesday morning.
The operation put the ship within an area that would be considered Chinese sovereign territory if the United States recognized the man-made islands as being Chinese territory, the official said.
The United States hadn’t breached the 12-mile limit since China began massive dredging operations to turn three reefs into artificial islands in 2014 — even though maritime law doesn’t usually accord territorial waters to islands built on previously submerged reefs.
U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, testifying before a Senate panel, said the missions will continue. “We will fly, sail and operate wherever international law permits and whenever our operational needs require,” he said.
Don’t Push Us
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned of consequences if a country caused trouble or raised tensions in the territories China claims as its own.
Why China’s Island-building Is Raising Eyebrows
“If any country thinks that, through some gimmicks, they will be able to interfere with or even prevent China from engaging in reasonable, legitimate and legal activities in its own territories, I want to suggest those countries give up such fantasy,” ministry spokesman Lu Kang said. “In fact, if relevant parties insist on creating tensions in the region and making trouble out of nothing, it may force China to draw the conclusion that we need to strengthen and hasten the buildup of our relevant capabilities. I advise the U.S. not to create such a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
Chinese military spokesman Col. Yang Yujun offered similarly stern words about what he called “an abuse of freedom of navigation.”
“(The U.S. action) threatened China’s territorial rights and security, endangered the safety of personnel and facilities on the artificial island as well as that of fishery workers, and harmed regional peace and stability,” Yang said.
The South China Sea is the subject of rival and often messy territorial claims, with China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam disputing sovereignty of island chains and nearby waters.
In little more than 18 months, China has reclaimed more than 2,000 acres at three main locations in the Spratly Islands — Subi, Mischief and Fiery Cross reefs, where it’s building airstrips thought to be capable of handling bombers.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs reiterated that its activity in the South China Sea didn’t affect freedom of navigation by sea or air but said it held “indisputable sovereignty over the Spratly Islands and its nearby waters.”
“China is resolutely opposed to any country damaging China’s sovereignty and security interest in the name of freedom of navigation and overflight,” it said.
In May, a U.S. surveillance plane carrying a CNN crew swooped over the Spratly Islands, triggering eight warnings from the Chinese navy to back off.
Chinese navy ships entered U.S. territorial waters off Alaska in September, coming within 12 miles of the coastline during President Barack Obama’s visit to the state, U.S. officials told CNN at the time. The officials said that China’s actions were consistent with “innocent passage” under international maritime law.
US Official Cites ‘Routine’ Operation
Another U.S. defense official told CNN that the operation was “routine” and was in accordance with international law. “We will fly, sail and operate anywhere in the world that international law allows,” the official said.
“U.S. Freedom of Navigation operations are global in scope and executed against a wide range of excessive maritime claims, irrespective of the coastal state advancing the excessive claim,” the official added.
His comments echoed those of State Department spokesman John Kirby, who said Monday that a country didn’t need to consult another “when you are exercising the right of freedom of navigation in international waters.” On Tuesday, Kirby reiterated his point and said it was “a right, it’s a principle.” The rest of the region, wary of China’s intentions in the disputed waters, is likely to welcome the U.S. move.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga declined to comment but said, “It was extremely important that the international community work together in order to protect open, free and peaceful ocean.”
Australia said it “strongly supports” the rights of all countries to travel through the South China Sea. Taiwan said it rejected China’s claim of sovereignty over the Spratly archipelago and called for dialogue to resolve the dispute peacefully.
A retired admiral who formerly commanded U.S. naval forces in the Pacific told CNN that he isn’t concerned there will be a military showdown.
“Both China and the United States recognize that this is not a reason for getting into higher levels of conflict with each other,” retired Adm. Dennis Blair told Amanpour. “So I’m relatively sure that neither side will escalate, but that both sides will record what’s being done and stake their positions accordingly.”
Greg Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said that the U.S. operation was aimed at testing control of the seas, not sovereignty over the disputed islands, and would present a dilemma for China. “It forces a clarification of China’s claims. China’s strategy in the South China Sea is one of ambiguity,” he said.
Poling said under maritime law, artificial islands were not usually afforded the 12-mile territorial zone, and that the U.S. Navy deliberately chose to send the destroyer near Subi Reef for this reason.
Before China’s recent land reclamation, both Subi and Mischief reefs were submerged at high tide, while a sandbar was visible at high tide at Fiery Cross Reef, which could make its legal status more ambiguous.
“So if Beijing objects by saying to the U.S. you’re in our territorial sea, then the U.S. can respond by saying there’s no such thing as a territorial sea for an artificial island,” Poling said.
He said the decision to go ahead with the mission follows months of discussion in Washington and likely followed Chinese President Xi Jinping’s trip there last month, which made little headway on the issue of the South China Sea.
CNN’s Barbara Starr, Kevin Wang, Steven Jiang, Greg Botelho, Charlie Miller, Steve Almasy, Holly Yan and Yuli Yang contributed to this report.
China Explains Why It’s Building
Islands in the South China Sea
Sui-Lee Wee / Reuters
(April 9, 2015) — China on Thursday sketched out detailed plans for the islands it is creating in the disputed South China Sea, saying they would be used for military defense as well as to provide civilian services that would benefit other countries.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a news briefing that the reclamation and building work in the Spratly archipelago of the South China Sea was needed partly because of the risk of typhoons in an area with a lot of shipping that is far from land.
“We are building shelters, aids for navigation, search and rescue as well as marine meteorological forecasting services, fishery services and other administrative services so as to provide the necessary services to China, neighboring countries and individual vessels sailing the South China Sea,” Hua said.
Hua said the islands and reefs would also meet the demands for China’s military defense, although she did not elaborate.
It’s rare for China to give such detail about its plans for the artificial islands. The rapid reclamation taking place on seven reefs has alarmed other claimants and drawn US criticism, including from Defense Secretary Ash Carter, who is visiting Japan and South Korea this week.
“The relevant construction is a matter that is entirely within the scope of China’s sovereignty. It is fair, reasonable, lawful, it does not affect and is not targeted against any country. It is beyond reproach,” Hua added.
China claims most of the potentially energy rich South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims.
All but Brunei have fortified bases in the Spratlys, which lie roughly 1,300 km (810 miles) from the Chinese mainland but much closer to the Southeast Asian claimants.
While China’s new islands will not overturn US military superiority in the region, workers are building ports and fuel storage depots as well as possibly two airstrips that experts have said would allow Beijing to project power deep into the maritime heart of Southeast Asia.
Hua’s comments came hours after a Washington-based think tank published new satellite images that show Chinais quickly reclaiming land around Mischief Reef in the Spratlys within an area the Philippines regards as its exclusive economic zone. The work on Mischief Reef is China’s most recent reclamation.
A March 16 image published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) shows what it said were a chain of small artificial land formations as well as new structures, fortified seawalls and construction equipment along Mischief Reef.
Several dredgers are also present while the entrance to the reef had been expanded, the CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative said on its website.
An image from Feb. 1 showed a Chinese amphibious transport naval vessel several hundred meters from the reef’s entrance. CSIS said such a ship was capable of holding up to 800 troops and as many as 20 amphibious armored vehicles.
Surveillance photos taken of Mischief Reef in October and seen by Reuters showed no reclamation work.
Asked about Mischief Reef in light of the images, Carter said he did not want to speculate on China’s future plans but added that the militarization of territorial disputes in the South China Sea could lead to “dangerous incidents”.
“It’s not just an American concern but a concern of almost every country in the entire region,” Carter told reporters before leaving Japan for South Korea.
China’s Hua said that “recent erroneous and negative comments made by individual countries” missed the point.
“China adheres to the path of peaceful development and carries out a defensive national defense policy. Maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea is in keeping with the development and security of China,” she said.
The Philippines first said in February that Chinese dredgers had started work at Mischief Reef, 216 km (135 miles) west of the Philippine island of Palawan.
China occupied Mischief Reef in 1995. The October photos showed two structures, including a three-storey building sitting on an atoll.
Additional reporting David Brunnstrom in Tokyo; Editing by Robert Birsel and Dean Yates. Copyright 2015.
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