In response to aggressive expansion and control attempts by the People’s Republic of China, the US has proposed a stronger presence in the South China Sea via air patrols and intensive maritime presence.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Defense Secretary Ash Carter has requested that his staff look at options that include flying Navy reconnaissance aircraft over the islands and sending U.S. naval ships to within 12 nautical miles of reefs that have been built up into artificial islands and claimed by the Chinese in an area known as the Spratly Islands.
The United States could be looking at sending a strong message to China by sending ships and aircraft to the region, a message that aggression in the area towards the vessels of the United States and her allies in the Pacific will not be tolerated. If followed through with, a combined maritime/aerial deterrence operation would provide both tension and relief in the heavily disputed region.
Spokesperson Hua Chunying said at a routine press briefing that the “US side should clarify relevant remarks”, citing that “China has always advocated freedom of navigation in the South China Sea” and “freedom of navigation does not give one country’s military aircraft and ships free access to another country’s territorial waters and airspace”.
While China asserts that they control the area of the South China Sea, the United States stands firm that it doesn’t recognize the man-made islands as sovereign Chinese territory, having argued that chain to as much as 2,000 acres of land, up from 500 acres last year. Meanwhile, the Philippine Foreign Affairs spokesman says that “the Philippines believes that the US, as well as all responsible members of the international community, do have an interest and say in what is happening in the South China Sea”. Nonetheless, DoD officials have reported that the Navy has so far not sent armed aircraft or ships within the 12 mile radius.
This comes at an inopportune time when President Obama recently announced that he would be renewing a nuclear deal with China, with experts stating that the deal would allow them to access nuclear technology that could be adapted to make its submarines quieter and harder to detect.