The comment has raised concerns of even more tightening of tensions in the South China Sea between China and the US, as well as Japan and other nations vying to keep the sea lanes open there. The Admiral said of the patrols that they could “end in disaster.”
He specifically targeted the United States in his comment. The comment came after a ruling in the Hague that countered the claims of territory by China in the region. The suit was brought to the Hague by the Philippines. The Chinese did not send representatives to the court.
China has stated it does not recognize the authority of the court and continues to claim sea rights in the region, counter to what other nations in the region are claiming.
The ruling gives a legal legitimacy to the nations, led by the United States, challenging China’s claims over the South China sea. The claims, if recognized, could threaten trade in the region.
The Admiral, Sun Jianguo, who is also the Deputy Chief of the Joint Staff Department of the Chinese Central Military Commission, made the comments Saturday night, July 16th.
“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 Reuters report released Monday, July 18th.
The Admiral added, “….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. 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.”
The more telling comment came when the Admiral addressed the suggested reaction of China to the Hague Ruling. He said that China must improve its military 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.”
A meeting has been scheduled for today, Monday, July 18th, between U.S. Chief of Naval Operations John Richardson and the head of the Chinese navy, Wu Shengli. The meeting is scheduled to take place in Beijing.
Adding to the tension is China’s plans to conduct “normal battle patrols” over the disputed territories in the South China sea. These will be air operations conducted by bombers, spy planes and flying tankers. The Chinese Air Force stated that these patrols will become “a regular practice.”
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