US Navy to challenge China's claims in South China Sea?
U.S. Navy and Pacific Command leaders want to ratchet up potentially provocative operations in the South China Sea by sailing more warships near the increasingly militarized man-made islands that China claims as sovereign territory, according to several Navy officials.Obama tended to wimp out on these normal operations by naval ships. Secretary of Defense Mattis has indicated a firmer resolve against Chinese aggression in the area. China has been making specious territorial claims based on a rather whimsical historical record without much basis in fact.
The freedom of navigation operations, also known as FONOPS, could be carried out by ships with the San Diego-based Carl Vinson carrier strike group, which is in the Pacific Ocean heading toward the South China Sea, according to three defense officials who spoke to Navy Times on condition of anonymity to discuss operations in the planning phase.
The military's plans likely call for sailing within 12 nautical miles of China’s newly built islands in the Spratly and/or Paracel islands, a move that would amount to a new challenge to Chinese territorial claims there that has raised tensions between Washington and Beijing in the recent past.
The plans are heading up the chain of command for approval by President Donald Trump, and set the stage for a transnational guessing game about what the Trump administration wants its Asia policy to be.
For years, the Obama administration curtailed the Navy’s operations around contested areas like the Spratly Islands, an archipelago of uninhabited islands and reefs that China his built up in recent years. China has installed military-grade runways on the islands and could deploy surface-to-air weaponry.
U.S. Navy leaders believe that the FONOPS help clarify rights under international law and secure U.S. influence in the region. China, however, views the U.S. operations there as a provocative challenge to Beijing’s effort to claim the territory and the fishing rights and any oil or natural gas reserves in the surrounding waters.