Tue, Jul 19, 2016 - Page 6 News List

Chinese admiral cautions against ‘freedom patrols’

US VISIT:The warning came in a speech delivered a day before the US chief of naval operations, Admiral John Richardson, began a three-day trip to Beijing and Qingdao

Reuters, BEIJING

Freedom of navigation patrols carried out by foreign navies in the South China Sea could end “in disaster,” a senior Chinese admiral has said, a warning to the US after last week’s ruling against Beijing’s claims in the area.

China has refused to recognize the ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague that invalidated its vast territorial claims in the South China Sea. China did not take part in the proceedings brought by the Philippines.

It has reacted angrily to calls by Western countries and Japan for the decision to be adhered to.

China has repeatedly blamed the US for stirring up trouble in the South China Sea.

The US has conducted freedom of navigation patrols close to Chinese-held islands, to Beijing’s anger, while China has been bolstering its military presence there.

Speaking behind closed doors at a forum in Beijing on Saturday evening, Admiral Sun Jianguo (孫建國), deputy chief of the joint staff department of the Central Military Commission, said the freedom of navigation issue was a bogus one that certain countries repeatedly hyped up.

“When has freedom of navigation in the South China Sea ever been affected? It has not, whether in the past or now, and in the future there won’t be a problem as long as nobody plays tricks,” he said, according to a transcript of his comments seen by reporters yesterday.

China is the biggest beneficiary of freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and will not let anybody damage it, Sun said.

“But China consistently opposes so-called military freedom of navigation which brings with it a military threat, and which challenges and disrespects the international law of the sea,” Sun said.

“This kind of military freedom of navigation is damaging to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, and it could even play out in a disastrous way,” he added, without elaborating.

He said the court case at The Hague must be used by China’s armed forces to improve its capabilities “so that when push comes to shove, the military can play a decisive role in the last moment to defend our national sovereignty and interests.”

Despite the warnings, China and the US have been maintaining open lines of communication, with US Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson yesterday meeting the head of the Chinese navy, Admiral Wu Shengli (吳勝利), in Beijing.

“I think that you can visit China this time at our invitation, that shows both sides attach great concern to maritime security,” Wu told Richardson in brief comments in front of reporters.

Richardson is on a three-day trip to Beijing and Qingdao that began on Sunday. He is scheduled to visit the navy’s submarine academy, tour China’s first aircraft carrier and discuss ongoing Rim of the Pacific military drills.

Separately, China’s Maritime Safety Administration said that an area just off the east coast of Hainan would be a no-sail zone from today through Thursday while military drills take place. It gave no details about the nature of the exercises.

China generally describes its exercises in the South China Sea as routine.

Additional reporting by AP

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