America's Asia Policy
U.S. to Continue Flights Over China’s Man-Made Islands

China is not happy about the firm new stand the U.S. is taking on its territorial aggression in the South China Sea. After yesterday’s very public move, in which a CNN crew was invited onto a U.S. spy plane while it flew over China’s two most contentious island building projects, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei issued a statement saying: “Such action is likely to cause an accident, it is very irresponsible and dangerous and detrimental to regional peace and stability. We express our strong dissatisfaction, we urge the U.S. to strictly abide by international law and international rules and refrain from taking any risky and provocative actions.”

He is unlikely to to get his wish. In Washington, all signs indicate that the new U.S. stance on the South China Sea territorial issues enjoys strong support. Reuters reports:

The United States vowed on Thursday to keep up air and sea patrols in international waters after the Chinese navy repeatedly warned a U.S. surveillance plane to leave the airspace over artificial islands China is creating in the disputed South China Sea. […]

The senior U.S. diplomat for the East Asia, Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel, told a media briefing in Washington the U.S. reconnaissance flight was “entirely appropriate” and that U.S. naval forces and military aircraft would “continue to fully exercise” the right to operate in international waters and airspace.

He said the United States would go further to preserve the ability of all countries to move in international waters and airspace.

“Nobody in their right mind is going to try to stop the U.S. Navy from operating – that would not be a good bet,” he said.

There’s also strong support in Congress. A group of senators from both sides of the aisle has proposed a resolution to officially condemn China’s land reclamation. From The Hill:

“China’s effort to unilaterally redraw the region’s maritime borders exacerbates the risks of misperceptions, accidents, and conflict. Our bipartisan resolution makes clear that China needs to act responsibly,” said Schatz, a member of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. […]

“Despite its commitment to peacefully resolve its maritime territorial disputes with its neighbors, experts tell us Beijing is likely to add runways, ports, logistics facilities, and offensive military capabilities to these features in the year ahead,” [said John McCain].

[Alaska Republican Dan] Sullivan said he has “become increasingly concerned about the escalatory nature of the situation in the South China Sea.”

The decision to actively challenge China’s spurious claims to territory with air and sea patrols was quite a surprise when it leaked from the White House last week. Now, with the CNN PR move and with the resolute statements coming out Congress and the State Department, it looks like this shift in China policy is here to stay.

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