The US is urging China to cover the entire South China Sea in its pledge to not militarize islands in the region. In recent months, China has deployed surface-to-air missiles, radar gear, and fighter jets to an islet there.
“We are concerned that China has taken a number of unilateral steps over the last several years that we think raise tensions in the region and are destabilizing,” said Daniel Kritenbrink, senior director for Asian affairs at the National Security Council.
Earlier this week, US Pacific Command chief Admiral Harry Harris noted China was “changing the operational landscape of the region.”
The South China Sea serves as a passageway for more than $1 trillion in ship-borne goods including a third of the world’s oil shipments each year. China claims virtually the entire region. It is also claimed in whole or in part by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.
“Short of war with the United States, China will exercise de facto control of the South China Sea,” Admiral Harris said.
During a state visit in September, President Xi Jinping maintained that Beijing “does not intend to pursue militarization” in the Spratly Island chain.
Speaking at a forum at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Kritenbrink said the US wants China to extend its non-militarization pledge “across the entire South China Sea.”
China continues to expand its military footprint in the South China Sea while expanding its artificial islands there, despite warnings from the US and regional neighbors.
Earlier this year, the US Navy sent a Destroyer vessel near disputed islands to uphold international freedom-of navigation laws. China has ratified the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The US also wants China to respect an upcoming ruling in The Philippines’ lawsuit over territory in the region. China does not recognize the Hague-based international court involved.
Kritenbrink says the “extremely important” ruling will outline how countries can peacefully solve territorial disputes.
“When that ruling comes out, it will be binding on both parties,” Kritenbrink said. “That will be an important moment that all of us in the region should focus on.”
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