Posted by on February 21, 2017 11:18 pm
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Categories: Asia Association of South East Asian Nations Association of Southeast Asian Nations China Economy Freedom of navigation Geography of Asia Philippines v. China Politics Reuters South China South China Sea Southeast Asia Territorial disputes in the South China Sea Territorial disputes of China Trump Administration

One day after the US announced it had dispatched the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier group in the contested South Chine Sea on “routine” patrols (through a post on the aircraft carrier’s Facebook page), China responded and predictably, it wasn’t thrilled. In a statement by the foreign ministry, Beijing said on Tuesday that it opposed action by other countries “under the pretext of freedom of navigation” that could “threaten and damage” its sovereignty, a clear reference to US patrols in territory that China considers its own.

“China always respects the freedom of navigation and overflight all countries enjoy under international law,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a daily news briefing. “But we are consistently opposed to relevant countries threatening and damaging the sovereignty and security of littoral countries under the flag of freedom of navigation and overflight,” Geng said in China’s first official comment on the latest U.S. patrol since it began.

Without explicitly naming the US, Geng said that “we hope relevant countries can do more to safeguard regional peace and stability.”

For the time being, the U.S. carrier strike group has not referred to its recent operations in the South China Sea as “freedom of navigation” patrols, although it will likely have to justify its presence in the region in the coming days, especially if confronted with Chinese naval forces.  As Reuters adds, U.S. ships last year conducted several such patrols to counter any efforts to limit freedom of navigation in the strategic waters.

Meanwhile, China just wrapped up its own naval exercises in the South China Sea on Friday. War games involving its own aircraft carrier have unnerved neighbors with which it has long-running territorial disputes. Beijing most recently warned Washington against challenging its sovereignty in the South China Sea last week. It claims almost all of the resource-rich waters, through which about $5 trillion worth of trade passes each year.

At the same time, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also claim parts of the South China Sea that command strategic sea lanes and have rich fishing grounds, along with oil and gas deposits.

The United States has criticized China’s construction of man-made islands and build-up of military facilities in the sea, and expressed concern they could be used to restrict free movement. Foreign ministers of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Tuesday expressed concern over what they see as militarization in the South China Sea, Philippines Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay said after meeting with his ASEAN counterparts.

While tense relations between the Trump administration and Beijing have eased in recent weeks, following Trump’s concession that he would observe the “One China” policy, the long-running and on occasion violent tensions over the contested naval territories have little hope of resolution for the foreseeable future.

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