US navigation in the South China Sea get unwarranted media attention, says Admiral John Richardson, the head of United States Naval Operations. Last week, the Admiral said two of its warships sailed near the islands claimed by China in the South China Sea and this angered Beijing. He added that ‘freedom of navigation’ exercises in the disputed sea is given more attention than they deserve.
However, China alleges that the United States which it described as an ‘innocent passage’, had in fact infringed upon Chinese sovereignty. It said the US had ‘damaged the peace, security and good order of the relevant seas’. Richardson said he was not surprised by China’s reactions. “We have not done anything increasingly provocative or anything else.”
Over the years, the US has been drawing attention to China’s construction of islands on reefs and shoals and its installation of military facilities on them. And this includes docks and airstrips.
To keep its territory intact, Beijing announced an expansion of its non-naval presence in the disputed sea with a US$23.5 million contract for a coastguard vessel to patrol the Paracel Islands. According to Chinese media, the Maritime Administration Law Enforcement Bureau of Sansha has commissioned Wuchang Shipbuilding Industry Group to construct the 1,900 – tonne vessel. The Sansha government administers several island groups and undersea atolls. This includes the Spratly Islands, the Paracels and Scarborough Shoal.
The US Navy Operations Admiral said China’s coastguard has complicated US efforts to conduct ‘freedom of navigation operations’ in the South China Sea. He said Chinese naval and ‘militia’ vessels, such as coastguard ships and fishing boats, would be dealt with the same manner by the US Navy in any encounters.