China continues to claim most of the disputed South China Sea, where it has built several artificial islands including some with military capabilities. One man is not too happy about that move. He happens to be in charge of US military operations in the Asia-Pacific region.
Meet Admiral Harry B. Harris Jr., the US military commander who warns that a “provocative and expansionist” China is “clearly militarizing” the South China Sea. He says it’s his job to inform Congress, US allies, and the American people about the Chinese threat.
The unapologetic admiral’s language starkly contrasts the tone of his more cautious commander-in-chief: Barack Obama.
Though not taking an official stance on the territorial dispute between China and its neighbors in the South China Sea, the White House has called on China to avoid military conflict, which could pull in the US to defend its allies.
The South China Sea is a waterway through which trillions of dollars in trade including oil passes each year. Beijing claims most of the region. China has been building artificial islands there complete with facilities like hospitals. Three are equipped with military-capable airstrips. At least one houses Chinese missile launchers.
Harris calls China’s three artificial islands in the archipelago region “military bases.”
The admiral says the biggest risk the US faces now is being pulled into conflict after a clash between China and a Southeast Asian ally.
Neither Beijing nor Washington wants war to break out from a spark at sea, but it’s Harris’s job to consider the possibility and prepare for the worst.
Pentagon officials say such a clash may take place at Scarborough Shoal. China in 2012 snatched this atoll from the Philippines, a US ally. Chinese military commentators say Beijing plans to turn this island, which is only 120 miles away from the Philippine coast, into a fortress.
“In the China piece, we just have to be ready for all outcomes from a position of strength,” Harris told The New York Times. “All outcomes whether it is Scarborough, South China Sea in general, or some cyber attack.”