WASHINGTON — For months, lawmakers and national security hawks have urged President Obama to stand up to China’s land reclamation of disputed islands in the South China Sea. But now that the Obama administration finally has, the White House does not want to talk about it.
In sending a guided missile destroyer into waters China considers its territory late Monday, the Obama administration sought to exercise what officials called the right to freedom of navigation in international waters.
The move was meant to reassure allies in Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines that the United States will stand up to China’s efforts to unilaterally change facts on the ground by building up artificial islands in the Spratly Islands chain.
But even as it was authorizing the naval patrol, which China promptly called a “deliberate provocation,” the White House tried to play down the episode, anxious to avoid escalating a conflict between the nations, a pair of adversarial Pacific behemoths.
The White House directed Department of Defense officials not to say anything publicly about the episode. No formal announcements or news releases alerting the media to the passage of the destroyer, the Lassen, were to go out, White House officials ordered. And if asked, officials were instructed not to speak on the record about the maneuver, administration officials said.