October 04, 2015
U.S. officials have indicated that the U.S. Navy will conduct freedom of navigation patrols near China’s artificial islands in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, Foreign Policy reports. The proposal to stage these operations has been under consideration for some time. During the summer, reports emerged that the White House and the Department of Defense disagreed on the need to stage freedom of navigation patrols, with the White House allegedly against the proposal while the Pentagon strongly favored it.
The White House’s cautious approach was ostensibly a result of wanting to avoid harmful diplomatic fallout ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s inaugural state visit to the United States, which took place in late September. With Xi’s visit now behind it, the Obama administration can assert freedom of navigation and overflight around China’s artificial islands for an arguably more manageable diplomatic cost. Additionally, recent reports that Chinese naval ships conducted “innocent passage” through U.S. territorial waters off the Aleutian Islands off the coast of Alaska provides somewhat of a tit-for-tat rationale for these operations.