The commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet told a conference in Sydney that America is “committed to freedom of the seas as ever” in a speech understood to be aimed at Beijing’s aggressive activities in the South China Sea.
Speaking at the Pacific 2015 Maritime conference on Tuesday, Admiral Scott Swift said that if bullying behavior at sea is not confronted, it will spread and become a “friction point” on land, reported the ABC.
“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 U.N. Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea],” Swift said.
This trend is particularly egregious in contested waters.
Diplomatically, the Admiral did not mention China specifically. Over the past several years in the South China Sea, Beijing has been busy turning atolls into islands capable of being militarized. As part of this, the Chinese are building airstrips on three man-made islands.
“There should be no doubt that the United States Pacific Fleet remains as committed to freedom of the seas as ever,” Swift went on to say.
“We will continue to defend and protect it through routine presence, exercises with allies and partners, and freedom of navigation operations.
“Put simply, we will continue to exercise freedom of the seas for all nations, because we know from painful past experience, to shirk this responsibility and obligation, puts much more at risk than any one nation’s maritime interests,” he warned.
America and its allies in the region, such as the Philippines and Australia, have continually asked Beijing to stops its land reclamation efforts. Beijing in response declares the areas as its own sovereign territory.
Swift’s comments follow concerns made by Albert del Rosario, the Filipino foreign minister, who was more forthright about Beijing’s behavior in the contested waters.
“No country should be allowed to claim an entire sea for itself, which is essentially what China is doing,” del Rosario told Foreign Policy in an interview this week.
“Forty to 60 percent of the world’s traded goods traverse those seas. Fifty percent of oil-tanker shipments go through there as well. So there should be interest by the international community as to what is going on in the South China Sea,” he said.
The Filipino foreign minister said that Beijing’s aims were to fulfill their obvious expansionist agenda, which he said is both economic and military.
“It’s economic because there is now competition in the world for resources. It is military because they are trying to establish defense corridors. They want to be a maritime power, but to be that, you need your own lake. We think they have selected the South China Sea as their lake,” said del Rosario.
The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan also have contesting claims in the South China Sea. Among other claims, Beijing also has conflicting claims against Japan in the East China Sea and against India on the eastern sector of the Himalayas.
See an episode of China Uncensored below that asks, will Beijing’s actions in the South China Sea result in shots being fired?