Home » Aviation » China Doubles Down on South China Sea Sovereignty, Warns Against ‘Risky and Provocative’ U.S. Freedom of Navigation Missions


China Doubles Down on South China Sea Sovereignty, Warns Against ‘Risky and Provocative’ U.S. Freedom of Navigation Missions

Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Hong Lei during a Sept. 18, 2015 press conference. Chinese MoFA Photo

Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Hong Lei during a Sept. 18, 2015 press conference. Chinese MoFA Photo

PENTAGON — Chinese officials again affirmed territorial sovereignty for a series of newly created artificial islands in the South China Sea and warned the U.S. against taking “risky and provocative action” by attempting to come within 12 nautical miles of the islands, according to a Friday press statement from Beijing.

Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Hong Lei was responding to comments made by U.S. Pacific Command commander Adm. Harry Harris — who told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday — that PACOM had presented the White House and Pentagon leaders the option to conduct a freedom of navigation exercises off of the disputed territory.

“Sir, I agree that the South China Sea is no more China’s than the Gulf of Mexico is Mexico’s,” Harris said in response to a question from SASC chair Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) during the Thursday hearing.
“I think that we must exercise our freedom of navigation throughout the region, and part of my responsibilities as the Pacific Command commander is to give options to the president and to the [Secretary of Defense], and those options are being considered, and we’ll execute as directed by the president and the secretary.”

In response to the comments, during a regular press briefing with the Chinese ministry spokesman Hong Lei, rebuked Harris’ comments and warned the U.S. against conducting the missions.

“China, like the U.S., champions navigation freedom in the South China Sea, but opposes any country’s attempt to challenge China’s territorial sovereignty and security. However, we oppose any country’s challenge, in the name of freedom of navigation, to China’s sovereignty and security in the South China Sea,” said the spokesman.
“We ask relevant parties to speak and act discreetly, respect China’s sovereignty and security interests, and do not make any provocative moves.”

Hong and Harris’ comments come just days ahead of a visit to the U.S. from Chinese President Xi Jinping and two weeks after China conducted its own freedom of navigation of the Aleutian Islands in Alaska.

USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) conducts patrols in international waters of the South China Sea near the Spratly Islands as the People's Liberation Army-Navy [PLA(N)] guided-missile frigate Yancheng (FFG 546) transits close behind on May 11, 2015. US Navy Photo

USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) conducts patrols in international waters of the South China Sea near the Spratly Islands as the People’s Liberation Army-Navy [PLA(N)] guided-missile frigate Yancheng (FFG 546) transits close behind on May 11, 2015. US Navy Photo

USNI News understands Washington is still considering sending forces within the 12 nautical mile boundary of the artificial islands on a freedom of navigation mission ahead of, or during, the Xi visit, but a final decision has yet to be made.

A tricky part of the mission is what a U.S. ship would do in what China considers to be its territorial waters.

Under the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention — which the U.S. Senate has not ratified but the Navy ascribes to — a warship can legally pass within the 12 nautical mile boundary but not conduct any military operations, like radiating its sensors or firing its weapons, in a transit known legally as “innocent passage.”

However, if the U.S. — which does not recognize China’s territorial claims of the artificial islands — conducts a pass within 12 nautical miles of the feature under the innocent passage rules it could tacitly be perceived as a recognition of the territory as sovereign Chinese holdings.

If it passes within 12 nautical miles of the feature and conducts military operations it would be perceived by China as likely provocative.

According to U.S. officials, the last freedom of navigation operation that came within 12 nautical miles of the artificial islands was in 2013.

The following is the Sept. 18, 2015 release from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Q: The commander of US forces in the Pacific said yesterday that the US should challenge China’s claims in the South China Sea by sending military patrolling vessels close to the artificial islands that China is building in the South China Sea. Does China view this as a provocative action?

A: We are seriously concerned about the relevant remarks. China has sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and the adjacent waters, and this claim is fully backed by historical and jurisprudential evidence. China, like the US, champions navigation freedom in the South China Sea, but opposes any country’s attempt to challenge China’s territorial sovereignty and security under the pretext of safeguarding navigation freedom. China urges [the] relevant party to exercise caution in its words and deeds, respect China’s territorial sovereignty and security interests, and refrain from taking any provocative and risky action.

  • China Lee

    China’s counter-move: Declare South China Sea ADIZ

    McCain is suggesting that the US Navy challenge China’s reclaimed islands by sailing within 12 miles of them.

    I predict China will react by declaring an ADIZ over the South China Sea.

    The game of move-counter move continues.

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  • FedUpWithWelfareStates

    What restrictions to navigation, harassment, or other incidents has there been against ANY commercial routine commerce transiting normal sea lanes in or around the SCS by Chinese forces? China needs this commerce IOT stay afloat literally, so it would be economic suicide for them to start targeting merchant ships. What benefit is there to intentionally provoking ANY country’s forces in the SCS? If ANY country has established a claim to an islet there, then THEY should be the one to protect it or lose it…NOT the U.S.

  • wfraser11

    China does not own the S China Sea. It needs to retreat back to its 200 mile EEZ and get its representatives to the Hague. Otherwise China will be in violation of virtually every norm of international law. These disputes over ownership of these tiny islands needs to be resolved in court. The Spratly Islands are 800 miles from China. The nine dash line map neither means anything, nor was it drawn by the Communist Party. There were inhabitants on the atolls when Chinese sailors visited there thousands of years ago.
    If Chinas bellicose and arrogant representatives continue to make statements like”The South nina Sea has China in its name therefore it is Chinas” are demonstrative of ignorance on a scale unknown in modern politics. India does not own the Indian Ocean, Mexico does not own the Gulf of Mexxico and China does not own the East China Sea, OR the South China Sea. Its EEZ extends 200 miles off its coast.
    The end. And this will not change no matter what China says or does.
    If we add up the Navies and Air Forces of Taiwan, Malysia, Australia, Japan and The USa China finds itself the “little adolescent” on the street.
    It takers more than arrogance from a non elected Communist Party to gain respectability. When we add this to Chinas assistance in the invasion of S Korea and its assistance in the invasion of S VietName, its reputation doesn’t look too good. Add the corruption, the lawlessness, the lack of human rights and the non elected government, you have a weak colossal tiger that is sick and dangerous. Nothing more.

  • Marjus

    US best do it now while it can, because once China places missiles and fores on these ‘islands’ then anything short of war they will own the South China Sea. Including nearby US and allied forces. But in a real war, these islands are the first to be toast.

    • John B. Morgen

      These islands could be use as trip-wires

      • Secundius

        @ John B. Morgen.

        Agreed, like the British “Chain Home” of 1940…

        • John B. Morgen

          That’s correct, and British built several of them during the war. The structures were armed and manned. They looked like small drilling rigs—somewhat.

    • Frank Langham

      The PLAN already has AA capable military assets parked on these disputed claims … It really is something like a fully armed, static carrier battle-group, “in place”. … It is fairly clear that the PLAN and the PRC would deploy and use their best platforms, systems, and ordnance to respond to any attack but their hand is not as strong as they clearly believe it is. … BOTTOM LINE … Any hot, military conflict WILL harm China’s rather delicate economy much more than any other nation or group of nations. … Recent global market turmoil has shown that Western economies have suffered less and recovered more quickly than China has, as a result of common disruptions. … China is INTERNALLY LEVERAGED … We have all seen the various media productions which have documented this fact. … Other, emerging, internal pressures will only cobble the PRC’s ability to sustain protracted combat operations. … On the other hand, external conflict may be seen as a means to distract and deflect internal unrest but, in the end, hostilities will compound China’s problems and accelerate any collapse. … They NEED full-bore, open trade, without any hindrance, or they will cave.

  • bass_man86

    While still a gamble, I doubt that China would get into an open confrontation with the USA. To the PRC, the USA is like the goose that laid the golden egg; who else buys so many of their cheaply made products? Inversely, the USA stands to lose big if we do not confront the PRC over this issue. The USA will lose credibility across the region and we will only encourage further PRC expansionism. The question then becomes when do actually make the PRC stop? When they start building artificial islands in the vicinity of Guam?

    • John B. Morgen

      What I’m hearing is “appeasement” all over again; China could go bankrupt if the United States refuses to make payments to Chinese banks.

      • KazuakiShimazaki

        Sure, the US can default on its rather large debt. But unless they have something substantive on their side (maybe the Chinese attacked them), it’d just look like the US is welshing on its debts – that will likely be the end of the dominance of the dollar.

        • publius_maximus_III

          Chinese are not the only holders of U.S. debt. A default would hurt many U.S. taxpayers and allies, too.

          • Michael Nunez

            publius , The U.S. does not need China . America is a Resource Rich Land , in just about all areas . China is not . There might be short fall in Commodities that are not of necessity , but American’s would easily fill any vacuum in a short time . The U.S. would not be hurt at all when you really look at the Fact’s……. .

        • John B. Morgen

          The American dollar went down hill after President Nixon devalued it in 1970’s.

          • KazuakiShimazaki

            Yeah, but back then there wasn’t competition and the West needed to pull together against the Soviet Union so a lot of things were choked down. Not so sure if this will happen again this round.

          • John B. Morgen

            I suspect there will be new alliances with the United States, such as with Vietnam; our old enemy. We may even get back some our old bases, or build new bases in the Philippines.

    • Frank Langham

      Sooner is much better than later. … The PRC has already backed themselves into a corner with reckless rhetoric and stubborn delusions. … They have miscalculated and it is clear that any disruption in exports will do more damage than their economy could absorb. It is time to call their hand, just as soon as proper planning allows. Comprehensive and decisive denial of access to all disputed claims, with prejudice, ASAP. … Regardless of the PRC’s response, THIS course is actually the best thing for THEM, in the longer term. … A bit of pain and embarrassment, now, would be better than the alternatives which would be left to regional partners, later.

  • Curtis Conway

    We should be sailing by the new Chinese constructs every chance we get. It should be so often it becomes common place and the operators start recognizing each others voices. We should have patrol boats on Palawan Island, PI and they conduct daily patrols across the area, and bring the Philippine Navy with us. Then the Philippine Navy assume the patrol requirement. Constant contact with a Regional International Maritime Operations Center (RIMOC) on their own HI-COM is in effect at all times. Invite the Chinese to be a part, they just don’t get to DISPLACE the patrols next to the islands in the contested waters. This kind of activity is where we should be. If I had my druthers we would have an augmented Expeditionary Strike Group home ported in Subic. The economic impact to the local economy and that of the country would help pay for their new military upgrades. Perhaps some subsidy agreements for Helos, Fighters and Ships could be worked out.

    The fisheries around China are so depleted that the Chines fishing fleet ranges for the coast of Alaska to the East Coast of Africa. Are we going to wait until all the little countries that depend on their fishing for their sustenance and economies are threatened? That argument could already be made. The report came out today that the oceans fish are tremendously depleted. The US is one of the few countries that vigorously manages out fisheries. That is one of the US Coast Guard missions. That is another reason why more cutters for the Northern Latitudes is so important, and these need to be Legend Class, not smaller ships. The operational environment is too dangerous for anything less. There are times of the year when even they cannot operate freely.

    • Secundius

      @ Curtis Conway.

      Two of the Philippine Navy’s, Hamilton’s are based near Oyster Bay, Palawan Island. The Ranking Military Commander, to Reuters that Oyster Bay was going to be Converted into a “Mini-Subic Bay” for Philippine and “Allied” Ships…

    • Frank Langham

      Your very diplomatic vision seems “wishful”, to my mind. … Given the reckless rhetoric and the delusional manifestations of China’s staunch intentions, it seems clear that a hot reckoning is a prerequisite for any sort of democratized management, which is not based SOLELY on the PRC’s dictatorial ultimatums. … We are most definitely, ALREADY, “eyeball-to-eyeball” over their blatantly bogus claims and with the unabated pace and scope of their unmitigated power-grab, throughout their extraterritorial domains, in the region. … Their actions have been outright disrespectful and insulting to ALL of their neighbors. … Time to dispense some humility, by means of a regional MILITARY action, with ALL options on the table. … Just my opinion. … This is NOT a time for a soft hand.

      • Curtis Conway

        Well Frank . . . LOL . . . I’m trying real hard to look at this as a cup half full . . . LOL! I look forward to the invitation for our first ships to visit their port facilities, and the first landing of patrol aircraft that are policing the area. Perhaps they can provide Divert Field capability for aircraft in distress. Otherwise . . . their true intentions will be made know for all to see.

        Of course . . . I will not be holding my breath awaiting these eventualities.

        • Frank Langham

          We’re being played and the sooner and the more firmly that we respond, the better it will be for ALL parties. … ALL.
          Their export traffic could be easily and completely choked. The bulkheads, here, have ears but we are a short while away from max coverage. … I hope our lamps are full.

          • Curtis Conway

            Amen to that! My powder is dry, food stored, and Alamo available with a solid water source.

          • Frank Langham

            I hope the mags are deep and the tanks are full (coming and going).

  • John B. Morgen

    The Chinese are NOT doubling down, but speaking in folk-tongue by issuing warnings to the Western nation-states, the Asian nation-states and also to the United States. We’d better NOT let our guard down for not one bloody second, or the Chinese Tiger will bite you….

  • milomonkey

    China double down ? what kind of wording is that ? they dont fear the US empty threats or US allies in SCS.. get with the program , modernize the philiphine navy and armed forces, give them free weapons , training and maintenance.. let the philiphine navy do the work they should be doing , confronting china.. why waste american lives to do the job that asian boys should be doing themselves ??

    • Frank Langham

      HA !! … How about the USA dispatch two battle-groups to the SCS and a SEA-BASE and SEA SHIELD West of GUAM and we can invite whatever ships and staff that the regional partners wish to contribute ?? … That sounds like a fair fight, to me … How about THIS YEAR, before the holidays ?

  • Tony

    Since its creation in 1949 the People’s Republic has increased its territory by fifty percent, forcibly incorporating Xinjiang, Tibet, the Paracel Islands and much of the South China Sea; a ferocious appetite worthy of one other historical comparison, the United States.
    China is not the first rising power to claim their own version of Manifest Destiny nor will it be the last. Left unchallenged at some point in the next thirty years we may expect a ‘doctrine’ and it will not be Monroe’s.
    “The Aztlan Protocol” a brilliant depiction of where all this is going should be read by anyone with an interest in this subject. Sometimes it is easier for those in the know to tell the truth through fiction, if you get what I mean. Anyway, Alderic Au certainly knows of what he speaks.

    • Michael Nunez

      Comparing the U.S. to China 165 year’s ago , does not work . First, I do not think anyone is alive . Different Time’s . Different Place . China on the other hand in today’s World , since 1949 , “Today’s Living” has changed it’s Color many times in an effort to cover up Territorial Aggression in Asia , But I believe your view on The Monroe Doctrine could be a World Changer . China is on a Territorial Binge , but the American Natives did not have the ability to kill on the level that all of Asean is now acquiring as we debate .

      • John B. Morgen

        Are you in applying that the United States is a “Paper Tiger,” or simply weak minded? No will to fight.

        • Michael Nunez

          I do not say this lightly , Your a Troll or a Fool…… .

          • John B. Morgen

            Indeed, it is very sad that you’re unable to respond intelligently for this forum of discussions….And I do not say this lightly.

  • publius_maximus_III

    Could the U.S. build a chain of oil drilling platforms and wind turbines just outside the disputed Spratly Island 12 mile limit and load them with electronic gear, and even defensive missiles, to make the point with PLAN that such behavior in international waters can be a two-way street?

    • John B. Morgen

      Do you mean that the United States builds and deploys [ocean forts], forts that are armed? Then if so, it is quite possible and it can be done because such platforms would be consider as American soil. It is an interesting idea, and yes two can play that game.

      • Secundius

        @ John B. Morgen.

        The Only Hole in the Plan that I see, is weather or not Congress will Ever Fund Such A GAMBIT. I Suspect, NOT…

        • John B. Morgen

          Congress will fund such a plan because MIC will profit from it, and also the steel industries as well. Of course, the weather could have a profound affect, unless the ocean forts are self-propelled. The plan will work.

          • publius_maximus_III

            Not to mention those work-hungry LA and MS shipyards, who would love to build more platforms, except for Uncle Sam instead of BP. They could be towed horizontally through the Panama Canal, then “sunk” vertically on location in the SCS, with very little start-up time — instant USA islands of freedom…

          • John B. Morgen

            We could build these ocean forts (OF)s in sections from the West coast, then towed them across the Pacific; and we could also build some additional sections from Australia, Philippines, etc.

          • Frank Langham

            We already have “ocean forts” … And they are mobile … SEABASEs and SEA-SHIELDs, Upward-Falling Payloads, NIFC-CA and many other components.

          • John B. Morgen

            I’m referring about building physical structures like drilling platforms, or artificial steel islands. Not based on tactical or strategic doctrines or procedures on naval battle-lines or zones of control and communications….

  • Frank Langham

    If China will not heed credible warnings, via private channels, then, The USA (and partners) should, as a unified force, get right up in China’s “junk” and humiliate them, with extreme prejudice (decisively and comprehensively) … Flat out scuttle any material improvements to ALL contested artificial “reclamation” projects to which the other, valid claimants, have (i.e. who WORLD opinion would view as having just and non-ambiguous counter-claims). … I am sure that other commentors agree that any claims which are more than half the distance between other claimants recognized territory and rights are not valid without regional, majority recognition. … This is nothing other than a unilateral power-grab by means of military force and open threats … At best, these Islands MIGHT be administered with ABSOLUTE DEMOCRATIC REGIONAL REPRESENTATION for PEACEFUL AND RELIEF MISSIONS, by a full and representative REGIONAL COALITION (with the PRC as JUST one more member, like ANY other).