China is turning its newly-built islands in the South China Sea into bases so it can enforce its claim to own the entire international waterway, according to a senior Pentagon official.
“It’s not about finding 12 nautical miles more” territory for China around the edges of the controversial islands, “it’s really about enforcing a very expansive sovereignty claim”, said the top official for US military policy in the Asia-Pacific, Randy Schriver.
“Only the Chinese can decide whether they’re going to pursue that more aggressively,” Mr Schriver told Farfax Media in what is understood to be his first interview since taking his post last month.
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US President Donald Trump said on the weekend in a press conference with Malcolm Turnbull that the US “would love to have Australia involved” in naval patrols reinforcing international access to the area, so-called freedom of navigation operations.
“And I think Australia wants us to stay involved,” said Mr Trump. Speaking shortly afterwards, Mr Schriver confirmed that “as a general matter we do want Australia beside us and other countries,” naming Japan in particular.