The U.S. Air Force’s chief of staff says there are no plans to reduce freedom of navigation operations in or over the South China Sea, which China cites as the source of increased tensions in the region.
Speaking to reporters in Manila on Friday, Gen. Dave Goldfein said, “There will be no let-up in our willingness or our ability to fly or sail where we need to and when we need to.”
“That’s our commitment to the region,” Goldfein said.
The U.S. is committed to keeping the global commons open for all, whether at sea or in the air and, increasingly, in space and cyberspace, the general said. Such use has to adhere to international rules of order, “So, anybody in the region that violates those, it’s concerning,” he said.
While the U.S. rarely announces such missions, known in the Navy as “FONOPS,” the tempo of such operations is believed to have increased in recent months, angering China.
Beijing says they endanger safety when ships sail close to Chinese islands or aircraft fly nearby — in deliberate defiance of Chinese territorial claims — and it regularly sends aircraft and vessels to escort them.
That’s created fears of an open confrontation, despite the sides having signed agreements on how to avoid unexpected encounters in the air and on the sea.