US won’t back down in South China Sea – official


MANILA, Philippines — Despite close encounters at sea, the United States will not stop confronting China over its massive territorial claims in the South China Sea, as it presses to maintain freedom of navigation under international law.

Backing down in the South China Sea is tantamount to rewarding China’s aggressive behavior, said US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia Dr. Joseph Felter in a roundtable interview with a small group of selected media on Wednesday.

The senior defense official cited a near-miss between a US Navy destroyer and a Chinese warship in the South China Sea in September. At that time, USS Decatur was conducting freedom of navigation operations near two Chinese-controlled features in the Spratly Islands.

The Chinese missile destroyer Luoyang came within 45 yards of the US warship, forcing the latter to maneuver to avoid a collision.

While Felter described the incident as “unfortunate,” he said that it would not change the US position in the South China Sea.

“If you recall the USS Decatur incident two months ago, that was an isolated incident. We have CUES or code for unplanned encounters at sea, which our friends in China tend to follow. We don’t have any incidents. This was an unfortunate incident. They nearly collided at sea and that would have been very unfortunate, but that does not mean we’re going to change our behavior. If it results in the US backing down in a way, it’s almost rewarding the belligerent behavior. So we will continue to exercise our rights under international law,” he said.

China insists it owns almost all of the South China Sea, including waters close to the shores of the other claimants in the strategic waterway, despite the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling in 2016 that invalidated these claims.

Besides the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan also claim parts of the South China Sea.

To reinforce its sweeping claim, China built artificial islands on seven features in the Spratly archipelago and put up military bases equipped with anti-ship and surface-to-air missiles.

The US says it does not take sides in territorial claims in the disputed waters, but has expressed interest in the peaceful settlement of the rival claims.

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