US reveals it exercised right to freedom of navigation against China in the South China Sea and other nations around the world

Sino-US ties have been strained after the US Navy has carried out a series of patrols near islands Beijing is developing in disputed areas of the South China Sea

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 April, 2016, 10:12am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 April, 2016, 11:38pm

The Foreign Ministry yesterday accused the Washington of exerting “American exceptionalism” after the Pentagon revealed it had conducted “freedom of navigation” operations against 12 foreign nations as well as Taiwan.

“The so-called freedom of navigation is actually the US’ coercive means to push its unilateral claims based on its powerful maritime and air force might,” spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular press conference yesterday.

The US introduced the freedom of navigation plan in 1979, before signing the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which Hua said was an attempt by the US to safeguard its maritime military interests without signing the treaty. That underscored Washington’s selective use of international conventions and its attitude of exceptionalism, she said.

Vietnam backs latest US challenge to Beijing’s sovereignty in South China Sea, say analysts

Hua’s remarks came after the Pentagon issued an annual report earlier this week on the freedom of operation exercises. The countries targeted in the region included the mainland, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia from October 2014 to September last year.

The report said China was challenged over jurisdiction of airspace above its Exclusive Economic Zone and restrictions on foreign aircraft flying through an air defence identification zone set up in the East China Sea in 2013, and requiring foreign military ships to obtain prior permission to enter the zone.

Tensions between China and the US over the dispute have mounted, with each accusing the other of “militarising” the region.

US President Barack Obama told the CBS network that he wanted a candid relationship with China, but Beijing had a tendency to view some regional issues or disputes as a zero-sum game.

“So with respect to the South China Sea, rather than operate under international norms and rules, their attitude is ‘We’re the biggest kids around here. And we’re gonna push aside the Philippines or the Vietnamese.’ ... But it doesn’t mean that we’re trying to act against China. We just want them to be partners with us. And where they break out of international rules and norms, we’re going to hold them to account,” he said.

China to build up atoll in contested South China Sea, source says

Shanghai-based military expert Ni Lexiong said the Pentagon report meant to tell China that the “freedom of navigation plan” not only targeted China, but any nation the US believed restricted access to international waters.

“But I don’t think Beijing’s hostility toward Washington will be eased because the report indicates that the US is the real global maritime master,” Ni added.

The Pentagon report indicated the US had started its freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea much earlier than its announcement to send the destroyer USS Lassen to pass near Beijing’s newly built artificial island on Subi Reef in the Spratly archipelago in last October.

In another development, China’s Ministry of Defence on Monday said that it had been concerned by a flight of six powerful US Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt aircraft, which are designed to provide close air support for ground troops, near Scarborough Shoal.