US Navy to operate 'wherever' international law allows
THE UNITED States military will continue to operate "wherever" international law allows, US Admiral Harry Harris said in Beijing yesterday, a week after America infuriated China by sailing close to one of the artificial islands it had built in the South China Sea.
"International seas and airspace belong to everyone and are not the dominion of any single nation," Adm Harris told an audience at the Stanford Centre in Peking University.
"The South China Sea is not - and will not - be an exception," Agence France-Presse quoted the commander of the US Pacific Command as saying.
Responding to the speech, the Chinese Foreign Ministry told a regular press briefing yesterday that "freedom of navigation" had never been an issue in the South China Sea.
"US warships can always take the international waterways but instead, they want to swagger through waters adjacent to China's islands. So what 'freedom' is it referring to?" said ministry spokesman Hua Chunying, according to transcripts posted at the ministry's web site.
Last week, the USS Lassen guided missile destroyer sailed within 12 nautical miles of the Subi Reef, which is controlled by the Chinese.
Earlier, the two countries said the admiral's three-day visit was part of their military exchanges for this year, and there would be no discussion about US presence in the South China Sea.
The visit was also said to be for frank exchange of views and discussing how to better manage differences.
Washington has said it takes no position on the sovereignty disputes in the South China Sea, which involve China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.
Adm Harris yesterday also tempered his comments, saying in his Peking University speech that "there are many areas where we have common ground", despite disagreement on some topics.
Meanwhile in Kuala Lumpur yesterday, Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said at a press conference following a meeting of Asean defence ministers that he hoped countries outside Asean would not increase the tension in the South China Sea, Reuters reported.
"If the sides cannot find an amicable solution on the way forward, the patrolling and presence of vessels from China or the US raises concerns for us Asean countries," he said.
Today, the 10 Asean defence ministers, along with counterparts from the US, Japan, China, India and Australia, will meet to discuss regional security cooperation.
The meeting, first held in 2006, is a platform to promote regional peace and stability. AGENCIES