PACOM CO Harris: More U.S. South China Sea Freedom of Navigation Missions Are Coming


Calling freedom of navigation “a matter of fundamental principle” to the United States, the top military officer in the Pacific said that more operations in the South China Sea not only will continue but will become more complex.

Adm. Harry Harris, commander of Pacific Command, said in answer to a question Wednesday, “I believe the [USS] Lassen [operation] did challenge some of China’s claims.” He told the audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C., think-tank that the passage of the guided-missile destroyer within 12 nautical miles of Subi Reef, an artificially reclaimed island, did not recognize Beijing’s assertions of sovereignty over the feature as a matter of innocent passage.

“You will see more of these,” he said.

Earlier in his presentation, he said the Chinese projects are turning the reefs into islands “capable of supporting significant military forces,” including deep-water ports. While other countries bordering on the South China Sea have also staked claims on reclaimed reefs, none has matched China’s scale of effort. A slide Harris presented showed China had reclaimed 3,000 acres of former reefs in 18 months.

Harris called the South China Sea “a contested area” where assured access to natural resources is disputed while also being a region of shared domains—shipping on the surface, fiber-optic cables below.
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