China’s South China Sea islands won’t stop lawful patrols, US Navy says
American forces will continue to operate in waterway ‘as long as international law allows’
American forces will continue to patrol the South China Sea wherever “international law allows us”, a senior US Navy officer said aboard a US aircraft carrier on Saturday.
Lieutenant Commander Tim Hawkins said the US Navy had carried out routine patrols at sea and on air in the strategic waters for 70 years to promote regional security and guarantee the unimpeded flow of trade crucial for Asian and US economies.
“International law allows us to operate here, allows us to fly here, allows us to train here, allows us to sail here, and that’s what we’re doing and we’re going to continue to do that,” Hawkins said when asked if China’s newly built islands could restrain the navy in the disputed waters.
Hawkins made the comments aboard the USS Carl Vinson docked in Manila Bay as part of a visit to the Philippines.
Some of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s Cabinet officials also boarded the vessel for a brief tour while it was patrolling the South China Sea on Wednesday.
Duterte has sought to retreat from a Philippine foreign policy that he says was steeply oriented towards the United States, reviving once-frosty ties with China while also allowing considerable engagement with his country’s treaty ally.
China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei have long contested ownership of the South China Sea, which straddles one of the world’s busiest sea lanes and is believed to sit atop vast deposits of oil and gas.
Washington stakes no claims in the disputed region, but has declared that the peaceful resolution of the long-raging disputes, and the maintenance of freedom of navigation and overflight, are in its national interest.