China Warns Of ‘Decisive Response’ If US Vessels Sail Close To Disputed Islands In South China Sea


Aerial picture of Chinese ships building artificial islands in the South China Sea

An aerial photo taken though a glass window of a Philippine military plane shows the alleged ongoing land reclamation by China on mischief reef in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, west of Palawan, Philippines, May 11, 2015. REUTERS/Ritchie B. Tongo/Pool

SHANGHAI — China’s official news agency has warned that proposed U.S. naval patrols close to islands China claims as its own in the South China Sea would be a “grave mistake,” which could escalate tensions and lead to a “dangerous misunderstanding” between the two countries’ militaries. The Xinhua News Agency said any such action would lead China to respond “appropriately and decisively.”

Tensions have risen over the past year, as China has reclaimed land on islands in the Spratlys chain, in waters also claimed by the Philippines and several other southeast Asian countries, and is reported to have built three air strips on them. Beijing says the facilities are for humanitarian use, and says it is only doing what other nations including Vietnam have done in the region. However, following a failure to reach a breakthrough in talks between President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping last month, the U.S. has pledged to take action to show its displeasure.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter said last week that the U.S. plans to sail within 12 nautical miles of the islands (the limit of territorial waters under United Nations conventions) in the near future, to stress that these are in international waters, and to “defend freedom of navigation.” 

Reports say the U.S. has not sailed into the waters since 2012. And Xinhua said any resumption of U.S. presence in the area would be a “provocative step” that would “damage” bilateral ties and would also raise the “danger of miscalculation.”

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