China has voiced “serious concern” over US plans for military air and sea patrols in the South China Sea.
There has been reports that US official reportedly said that Washington was planning to send ships and aircraft to “assert freedom of navigation” around Chinese-made artificial islands in the strategic seaway.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying that US officials should clarify their remarks and warned that countries should avoid “risky and provocative approaches to maintain regional peace and stability.”
While Beijing supports freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, the U.S. must be careful in how it uses that right, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.
The US move comes as China’s reclamation projects in the Spratly Islands has expanded reefs from 500 acres last year to as many as 2,000 acres currently. Satellite images has also revealed that China is building airstrips capable of handling fighter jets on some of these artificial islands.
The Wall Street Journal first reported the remarks out of Washington, citing an anonymous official as saying Defense Secretary Ash Carter had asked for ideas about how to address China's moves to reinforce islands it occupies in the strategically vital area. Plans under consideration included sending ships and aircraft to within 12 nautical miles of the built-up islands, the report said.
Invading territorial waters or airspace would potentially be an act of war and would certainly raise tensions between the two Pacific powers.
The South China Sea, which skirts China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan, is a rich fishing ground and through it passes China’s main sea route for the Middle East oil imports that are vital to its burgeoning industrial economy.