SYDNEY – Some countries appear to view freedom of the seas as ”up for grabs” in the South China Sea, imposing superfluous warnings and restrictions that threaten stability, a U.S. Navy commander said on Tuesday in comments apparently aimed at China.
Admiral Scott Swift, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, said in a strongly worded address in Australia the United States remained “as committed as ever” to protect freedom of navigation through the region.
“It’s my sense that some nations view freedom of the seas as up for grabs, as something that can be taken down and redefined by domestic law or by reinterpreting international law,” Swift told a maritime conference in Sydney.
“Some nations continue to impose superfluous warnings and restrictions on freedom of the seas in their exclusive economic zones and claim territorial water rights that are inconsistent with (the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea). This trend is particularly egregious in contested waters.”
China claims most of the South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also have overlapping claims.
Japan and China also have conflicting claims in the East China Sea.