Home » Budget Industry » PACOM CO Harris: More U.S. South China Sea Freedom of Navigation Missions Are Coming


PACOM CO Harris: More U.S. South China Sea Freedom of Navigation Missions Are Coming

Adm. Harry B. Harris, commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet in 2014. US Navy Photo

Adm. Harry B. Harris, commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet in 2014. US Navy Photo

Calling freedom of navigation “a matter of fundamental principle” to the United States, the top military officer in the Pacific said that more operations in the South China Sea not only will continue but will become more complex.

Adm. Harry Harris, commander of Pacific Command, said in answer to a question Wednesday, “I believe the [USS] Lassen [operation] did challenge some of China’s claims.” He told the audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C., think-tank that the passage of the guided-missile destroyer within 12 nautical miles of Subi Reef, an artificially reclaimed island, did not recognize Beijing’s assertions of sovereignty over the feature as a matter of innocent passage.

“You will see more of these,” he said.

Earlier in his presentation, he said the Chinese projects are turning the reefs into islands “capable of supporting significant military forces,” including deep-water ports. While other countries bordering on the South China Sea have also staked claims on reclaimed reefs, none has matched China’s scale of effort. A slide Harris presented showed China had reclaimed 3,000 acres of former reefs in 18 months.

Harris called the South China Sea “a contested area” where assured access to natural resources is disputed while also being a region of shared domains—shipping on the surface, fiber-optic cables below.

He said in his autumn meeting with Chinese military officials that they remained “pretty rigid about their ownership of the islands and their resources.” He told them that the United States found the reclamation projects and territorial claims “provocative.”

Saying Beijing has been helpful in anti-piracy patrols off the Horn of Africa, civilian evacuations from Yemen and in other areas, “China will continue to grow” and that “is not a bad thing.” Harris said the concern is about how China uses its power. One example of that growing power is China’s building of a coast guard cutter—25 percent larger than an Arleigh Burkeclass guided-missile destroyer (DDG-51) —for use in disputed waters with Japan.

Saying the United States retains an advantage in quality of personnel and equipment over the Chinese, it does not hold a lead in numbers. Harris said he reminds officials in Washington of the need to retain asymmetric advantages, such as in anti-submarine warfare, as Beijing continues investing in its military forces.

“Everything that is new and cool is going to the Pacific.” Harris cited the deployment of F-35s, the DD-1000s, the second Ford-class nuclear aircraft carrier, V-22 Ospreys and P-8A Poseidons as examples of that commitment.

Sailors aboard the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Lassen (DDG-82) conduct a man-overboard drill on Sept. 28, 2015 in the South China Sea. US Navy Photo

Sailors aboard the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Lassen (DDG-82) conduct a man-overboard drill on Sept. 28, 2015 in the South China Sea. US Navy Photo

“We have allies, friends and partners where China does not,” he added. Harris specifically mentioned work with Australia, Singapore, the Philippines and Japan, as well as on Guam, an American territory, where mutual security concerns are being addressed.

He said he was interested in going beyond the traditional bilateral treaties and arrangements that mark American relationships in the Indo-Pacific to multi-lateral arrangements “not to supplant the alliances [but to] improve operational relationships.”

The value of forward presence in such a large area as the Indo-Pacific arises in the ability to respond quickly to natural disasters or military crisis.

Looking at India, “I see nothing but opportunity and excitement in our relationship.” Harris said this was “not a counter to China” but a realization of shared democratic values and growing economic cooperation.

Quoting Defense Secretary Ash Carter, Harris said, “Economics is the most important piece” of relationships in the region. “The military is the most visible.” He said he supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

  • muzzleloader

    Good. But, I say next time, send the entire Ronald Reagan battle group.

    • Marjus

      Preferably while a B-52 flies by dragging an “AMERIKA-F YEAH!” flag behind.
      The Chinese are sure to file another protest and complaint.

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  • John B. Morgen

    Send in a cruiser or a destroyer squadron, but no LCS type warships. We want to impress the Chinese with our sea power……I wish we had a Iowa class battleship on hand for showing the [FLAG].

    • RobM1981

      Spot on re: the LCS.

      “Excuse me, but I need a tow…”

      • John B. Morgen

        Do you have an AAA(N) Card on you?

    • gnak

      Once that red line is crossed, like in the Korean War, America must be prepared for the consequences China has a lot more weapons now than 60 years ago

      • John B. Morgen

        The United States [must not be afraid] in dealing with China, and yes, China has modernized her military; however, we do not really know how well the Chinese will do in an event of war with the United States. We should steadfast to China’s aggression in the South China Sea; we cannot afford to display any weakness to the Chinese nor to International Community.

  • RobM1981

    Hopefully there’s an SSN in the immediate facility, and hopefully it goes live every few days just to say “Yes, I’m here…”

    I don’t like saber rattling, but this is preposterous. We might as well declare all of the pacific, from Hawaii to San Diego, north to the Canadian border, as “US Territorial Waters…” Heck, make it Alaska…

    • Michael Nunez

      Your Last Sentence is about 5 years away ….. .

      • Secundius

        @ Michael Numez.

        Actually, “A Lot Closer Than You Think,” Sir. Big Diomede Island (Russian) and Little Diomede Island (American) in the Aleutian Island Archipelago, are Less Than 2,000-meters of Each Other and Yet WELL Inside Each Others Territorial Waters…

        • Michael Nunez

          Good reply , I actually will follow that , very interesting…. .

  • Ctrot

    This should have been done while the “island” was under construction rather than now that it is a fait accompli.

    • LewCypher

      Before it was constructed it was just a reef on the charts and given due respect for safety of navigation.

      • Ctrot

        I didn’t saying anything about “before” it was constructed, I said “under construction”. We knew what was going on for months.

  • FedUpWithWelfareStates

    Just remember Squids that once you finally get your wish & get involved in a shooting war with China, DO NOT even think that the American People are going to fall for your false patriotic B/S again!

    It will ALL be on you…

  • OleSalt_1

    The USN on occasions should sail their Carrier Battle Group together with Navies of friendly allies in South China Sea to show it is serious about the FON. China is watching carefully every move made by the 7th Fleet and believes that US is a “paper tiger” – all talk and diplomatic hot air.

    • John B. Morgen

      I agree. However, we [MUST NOT] send single warships into the South China Sea, just to prove a point.

  • Banlas

    The Americans will never learn any lesson in history. When push comes to shove, China will by all means defend the integrity of its territorial waters just like what it had done during the Korean War. If Americans wanted to sacrifice themselves for their own egoistic, arrogant and c0cky behavior, they should go ahead and d ie but please leave the world out from your sacrifices,

  • Hugh

    The 9 (10) Dash Line is only the 1st claim. A 2nd security zone goes along the middle of Indonesia, with a 3rd one through the top of Australia, where they now have a 99 year lease on the Port of Darwin (next to the Naval Base).

    To hamper freedom of navigation for ships, the Chinese will likely form spokes of fishing boats/lines from their claims out 12 nautical miles, which can’t be readily navigated through.

    Typical Chinese/Asian conduct – do something against the neighbours and when they react then accuse them of being the bad guys! And don’t trust an agreement – later they will re-interprate it and say the others are wrong! To help to counter this the world of the future needs to include International Law – this should blunt China’s claims, but they won’t give up and lose face.

    They are building up to squeeze all other claimants and their allies out of disputed areas. Whilst the USSR observed certain rules during the Cold War, China would be likely to observe few if any restraints ultimately. (Some years ago a Chinese General stated he would be prepared to lose half the cities in China but in return would nuke 100 US cities!) So how do you deal with these people??

    And all the hundreds (thousands?) of non-PLAN Chinese seagoing vessels of all sizes, from fishing boats to mega-Coastguard vessels, are fitted-for future armaments. A large number of fishing boats firing a swarm of missiles could do a lot of damage.

    • gnak

      Americans out of their self-righteous ego, are ignoring the history of the SCS to play for their allies audience
      For the admiral to say China do not own anything in the SCS is a blatant disregard for
      The post-WWII treaties which American are a part of

    • Hugh

      Post WW2, what Treaties were agreed, what claims were in conflict or outstanding, and what other islands/reefs were not addressed? I hear the Nationalists did investigate over 200 islands/reefs prior to proposing the 9 Dash Line in 1947. Some of the islands were used by fishermen from various countries, indeed with various nationalities on different islands within the same group. Were there any formal government claims? Were some claims let go under duress from other claimants?

      Some time after came the international approach of EEZs.

      In order to consider who is entitled to what, many factors need to be peacefully considered and agreed by all stakeholders.

  • G Man

    China has a thousands of years of Deceitful and Fabrications of history which China obviously end up creating bogus claims in South china sea contested area based on the nine dashline map created by its own people. China is so greedy that it has drawn a map too close to other countries.

    China is just building Fake Islands in South china sea contested area and then claim it as theirs sovereign area. They are using their military power to scare those countries that opposes of their activities in South china sea. SCARING TACTICS BY CHINA.

    China is using reverse psychology by blaming other countries of provocation in South china sea so as the World will not see China as the sole instigator in SCS by building Fake islands near or in the INTERNATIONAL SEA LANE. 

    NO SINGLE COUNTRY SHOULD OWN THE SOUTH CHINA SEA CONTESTED AREA

    SOUTH CHINA SEA MUST GOVERN BY LAWS NOT CHINA’S MIGHT. Period

    • Michael Nunez

      The CCP of China is on the same ” Drugs ” that consumed Nazis Germany, in WW11. Same methods , Same Agenda , Stuck in a Delusional Past that never was …….!

      • Secundius

        @ Michael Numez.

        Yeah, and the US Army got it regular Daily dose of “Benzedrine” too…

        • Michael Nunez

          Is’int Benzedrine a Sedative ….. ? I believe that is used to calm someone down , who is out of control , or just losing it . Coffey , does it for me .

          • Secundius

            @ Michael Numez.

            Benzedrine or “Bennie’s” were used as a “Stimulate”, To keep Soldier’s ALERT and WIDE AWAKE. The German’s use a 1st Generation Version of Crystal Meth. A lower Dosage version of What Aldolf Hitler took to STAY AWAKE…

          • Michael Nunez

            Stay off the Drugs . Even in 3 to 5 day exercises , non-stop , I never heard , saw or was around Any Drugs while serving…… , and if I had , I can Guarantee you…….. , it would be Serious Butt kicking Time . good Luck with That .