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Navy Chief: US will continue regular patrols in int’l South China Sea despite China’s threats

Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. John M. Richardson delivers remarks during the CNOs' 23rd International Seapower Symposium (ISS) at the U.S. Naval War College, Sept. 19, 2018. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Luke McCall/U.S. Navy)
October 30, 2018

The U.S. Navy has said it will not cease regular patrols in the South China Sea despite threats and aggressive acts from China in the international waters.

Adm. John Richardson, Chief of Naval Operations, said at a press conference Monday that the U.S. will continue its operations against “illegitimate maritime claims,” the Associated Press reported.

“We will continue to progress this program of freedom of navigation operations,” Richardson said. “We do dozens of these operations around the world to indicate our position for … illegitimate claims, maritime claims.”

Richardson added that the U.S. and China “will meet each other more and more on the high seas,” according to Reuters on Tuesday.

Last month, a Chinese destroyer threatened a U.S. Navy ship on a “freedom of navigation” mission when it maneuvered dangerously close to the USS Decatur, forcing it to make a hard turn away to avoid a collision.

China routinely attempts to impede free navigation in the South China Sea. Despite being international waters, which hosts passage to some $3 trillion in trade goods, China insists claim over most of the area and has militarized numerous islands in the region. As a result, they confront every ship that enters the waters, attempting to chase them away with intimidation tactics.

Last week, China’s President Xi Jinping ordered Chinese forces in the South China Sea to prepare for combat and war.

“It’s necessary to strengthen the mission … and concentrate preparations for fighting a war,” Xi said. “We need to take all complex situations into consideration and make emergency plans accordingly.”

“We have to step up combat readiness exercises, joint exercises and confrontational exercises to enhance servicemen’s capabilities and preparation for war,” he added.

The orders were given specifically to China’s Southern Theatre Command, which is responsible for patrolling Taiwan and the South China Sea.

Collin Koh, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said Xi’s comments are “likely intended as a signal to the U.S. in particular and any parties that Beijing perceives to be causing provocation [in the disputed waters],” according to the South China Morning Post.

The U.S. continues to patrol the region with ships and various aircraft in accordance with international law.

A classified Navy proposal obtained by CNN suggests that the U.S. Pacific Fleet could be planning a major freedom of navigation operation in November, during which a series of operations involving multiple warships, aircraft, and troops will take place at one time to show the right of free passage in spite of Chinese intimidation.