Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around Fiery Cross Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea in this still image from video taken by a P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft provided by the United States Navy May 21, 2015. REUTERS/U.S.
Reuters/Reuters – Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around Fiery Cross Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea in this still image from video taken by a P-8A Poseidon …more
By Andrea Shalal
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Navy is unlikely to carry out another patrol within 12 nautical miles of Chinese-built islands in the South China Sea this year as officials had initially suggested, three U.S. defence officials said on Monday.
Naval commanders had hoped to carry out another “freedom of navigation” exercise in the region as early as December as part of a plan to regularly send vessels into the area and exercise what the United States views as its rights under international law, officials have said.
But the Obama administration, which is weighing the risks of raising tensions with Beijing at a time when the United States is focused on the fight against Islamic State, has not approved the next such patrol, said the officials, who asked not to be named.
One official said the next U.S. Navy sail-by was likely to come in January, in what would be the second direct challenge to the territorial limits China effectively claims around seven artificial islands in one of the world’s busiest sea lanes.
The Navy conducted a similar exercise in October to underscore the U.S. position that the crucial sea lane should be treated as international waters.
In that exercise, the guided missile destroyer Lassen sailed close to one of China’s manmade islands in October, drawing an angry rebuke from China and a shadowing patrol.
Pentagon spokesman Bill Urban on Monday declined to comment on future plans for Navy operations. “As Secretary (of Defense Ash) Carter has stated, the United States will fly, sail or operate anywhere international law allows,” he told Reuters.
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