U.S. Navy forces patrolling the strategic, disputed waters near man-made islands in the South China Sea are undeterred by Beijing’s increasing military pressure and will keep their presence wherever “international law allows us,” a Navy officer aboard a U.S. aircraft carrier recently told The Associated Press.
Lt. Cmdr. Tim Hawkins aboard the USS Carl Vinson, a massive U.S. aircraft carrier stocked with F-18 fighter jets, told reporters that the U.S. Navy has carried out its routine patrols in the area for the last 70 years and will continue to do so despite China’s best efforts. The purpose of the patrols has been to promote security in the region and guarantee the uninterrupted flow of trade vital for U.S. and Asian economies.
“International law allows us to operate here, allows us to fly here, allows us to train here, allows us to sail here, and that’s what we’re doing and we’re going to continue to do that,” Hawkins said in a statement on Saturday.
China has long claimed a vast majority of the South China Sea from other nations including the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan and Malaysia, and has more recently challenged U.S. naval supremacy in the western Pacific. The U.S stakes no claims in the disputed region, and has expressed intentions for a peaceful resolution in the area, along with the continued freedom of navigation in the sea and the air, which is considered to be in the U.S.’ best interest.
“We’re committed,” Hawkins told reporters, “We’re here.”
In January, China accused the U.S. of trespassing when the USS Hopper, a guided missile destroyer, sailed near the Chinese-gaurded Scarborough Shoal, a group of disputed islets.
During the confrontation, China stressed its dissatisfaction with the U.S. and said it would take “necessary measures” to protect the area. The incident was resolved without conflict.
U.S. and Chinese officials have expressed that they have no desire to go to war in the South China Sea, but both governments continue to display their prowess and firepower whenever the chance presents itself. The U.S. Navy will continue to conduct routine operations, even as China increases pressure in the area and continues to strengthen its entire military.
“We’re prepared to conduct a spectrum of operations, whether that’s providing humanitarian assistance, disaster relief in the time of an emergency, or whether we have to conduct operations that require us to send strike fighters ashore,” Hawkins said. “We don’t have to use that spectrum, but we’re ready to, in case we need to.”