CHINA has come under attack from a top US Navy commander who has lashed out at Beijing for using activities in territory claims in the South China Sea as a tool to intimidate other nations in the region.
Admiral John Aquilino, the commander of the United States Navy’s Pacific Fleet, said China’s actions, including constructing islands in the South China Sea, are intended to project its military capacity. He told reporters at a briefing in Bangkok that Beijing has been installing anti-aircraft and anti-ship missile systems, as well as radar jamming equipment. But the commander also warned China has recently landed bombers on runways on several of the man-made islands it has built over coral reefs and lagoons that are scattered throughout the huge stretch of water.
He claimed it is clear such installations “absolutely have military purpose in order to present an optic to partners and nations in the region that show military strength and ultimately coerce and bully the nations in the region”.
Admiral Aquilino also sent out a strong warning to China, insisting a partnership between the US and “like-minded nations” will keep Asian countries safe amid rising competition from Beijing.
The commander called for China to “adhere to the international rights of all, in accordance with international law, as recognised by all nations in the region,” and respect other countries can exercise their own rights in the South China Sea.
Admiral Aquilino added he sees the role of the US as to keeping the nations and the region secure in close relationship with its allies “who share same values”.
He said: “We are in competition with the People’s Republic of China.
“We have inherent disagreement between ideologies. When the US talks about values, those are values that like-minded nations share.
“I believe that the strength of partnerships with those values will be what keeps the nations in the region secure.”
China has been at loggerheads with the US over what it calls inference from Washington in the Asia-Pacific region, and based on historical rights, insists it has sovereignty over almost all of the South China Sea.
China vows to abide by international sea law
Beijing has also refused to abide by an international arbitration ruling in a case filed by the Philippines, which ruled most of its territorial claims invalid.
Under the administration of US President Donald Trump, some southeast Asian countries are fearing a possible pullback from the US – just as the speed of China’s dominance is growing.
But Admiral Aquilino poured cold water on that and said the US would remain in the region for many years to come.
He cited so-called freedom of navigation operations in both the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait in which warships from both the US and its allies have sailed through what Beijing claims as its territorial water, increasing tensions further.
The US commander said in the South China Sea, Beijing built features in defiance of international law, that damage the environment, have a military purpose and “ultimately coerce and bully nations in the region.”
Earlier this week, tensions again threatened to boil over when China insisted its territorial claims in the South China Sea are legitimate and conform to international law.
Beijing insisted the entire waterway up to the coasts of the Philippines, Malaysia and Taiwan belongs to them, a claim rejected by an international court of arbitration in 2016.
Wu Haitao, China’s deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, said: “China’s territorial claims and claims to marine rights and interests in the South China Sea are in line with relevant international law and international practices.”