The war of words between China and the US over the South China Sea heated up on Tuesday with a top American Admiral defending last week’s US naval ship’s foray near Chinese-made artificial islands in the area while Beijing blasted the move as a “blatant provocation”.
“International seas and airspace belong to everyone and are not the dominion of any single nation,” Admiral Harry Harris, head of the the US Pacific Command, said speaking at the Stanford Centre at Peking University.
“Our military will continue to fly, sail, and operate whenever and wherever international law allows. The South China Sea, (SCS) is not -- and will not -- be an exception,” he said referring to last week’s USS Lassen guided missile destroyer which has sailed within 12 nautical miles of one of the land formations in the disputed area which drew protests from China.
“I truly believe that these routine operations should never be construed as a threat to any nation. These operations serve to protect the rights, freedoms and lawful uses of the sea and airspace guaranteed to all nations under international law,” he said.
But at the same time he advocated stronger military ties with China.
“Some pundits predict a coming clash between our nations. I do not ascribe to this pessimistic view,” Harris said.
“While we certainly disagree on some topics -- the most public being China’s claims in the South China Sea and our activities there -- there are many areas where we have common ground,” he said.
Remarks by Harris, the first Japanese-American to achieve the rank of admiral, drew very sharp reaction from the Chinese foreign ministry which has termed US role in SCS as a drama wrote, directed and acted by Washington.
“For me it is like watching a drama wrote, directed and acted all by somebody. The so call freedom of navigation in the SCS does not hold water at all,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told a media briefing in the most scathing attack on US in recent times.
She said every year over hundred thousand ships from countries all round the world pass through safely through the SCS.
“I see there was no problem at all. Abut 15 million barrels of oil is shipped to East Asia through the Straits of Malacca and SCS there was no problem at all,” she said.
Though there is special shipping lane for US naval vessels, they insist to take a detour on waters and islands and reefs which belongs to China to show their strengths in the pretext of freedom of navigation which is a “blatant provocation”, she said.