Rumors that the United States was considering sending warships near China’s reclaimed reefs in the South China Sea began percolating last week. The final decision to do so had been awaiting President Obama’s go-ahead for months, but had reportedly been put off in hopes of some kind of breakthrough during President Xi Jinping’s official state visit last month. But now, it appears we have confirmation that the project is a go, as the Financial Times reports that an unnamed U.S. official told the paper that the ships will be deployed within the next two weeks. More, via the Navy Times:
A spokesman for the National Security Council deferred questions regarding the Navy’s plans to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, but drew attention to President Obama’s remarks before the U.N. General Assembly Sept. 28, where he said the U.S. has “an interest in upholding the basic principles of freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce, and in resolving disputes through international law, not the law of force.”
OSD spokesman Cmdr. Bill Urban declined to comment on future operations, but referred to Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s comments from Sept. 1, when he said that the “United States will fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows, as we do all around the world.”
At a hearing last month, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense David Shear confirmed that the United States has not sent patrols within 12 miles of the disputed Chinese atolls since 2012.
“We hope the U.S. side can objectively and fairly view the current situation in the South China Sea, and with China, genuinely play a constructive role in safeguarding peace and stability in the South China Sea”, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters. Military experts close to the PLA said they expected the Chinese navy to send ships to intercept the U.S. vessels and to issue verbal warnings. Others said that the use of drones and the firing of artillery are also being considered.
China has blinked before. Will it blink this time?