The U.S. Navy is not leaving the South China Sea, a senior Navy officer said Saturday aboard a massive aircraft carrier armed to the teeth with American firepower.
“International law allows us to operate here, allows us to fly here, allows us to train here, allows us to sail here, and that’s what we’re doing and we’re going to continue to do that,” Lt. Cmdr. Tim Hawkins told the Associated Press aboard the Nimitz-class supercarrier USS Carl Vinson.
He stressed that the U.S. Navy has been patrolling the South China Sea for more than seven decades, securing regional peace and stability.
While the Obama administration was hesitant to challenge China’s vast territorial claims to the disputed waters, claims rejected by an international arbitration tribunal, the Trump administration has repeatedly sent destroyers and heavy bombers through the region, much to Beijing’s displeasure.
China lashed out in January after the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Hopper sailed near the Scarborough Shoal, which China seized from the Philippines in 2012. Beijing vowed to take “necessary measures” in response, a vague statement often issued after such incidents and is typically an empty threat.
The U.S. has also conducted freedom-of-navigation operations near the Spratly and Paracel Islands. The latter was taken from Vietnam by force.
Despite the Trump administration’s demonstrated commitment to regularly challenging China’s claims to the South China Sea, reversing current trends — which are in China’s favor — is likely to prove a daunting task, as years of inaction have allowed China to fortify its position.
China has established hardened, militarized defensive outposts in both the Spratlys and the Paracels. Satellite images taken recently reveal that China has just about completed its conquest and militarization of the heated South China Sea.
The Trump administration has attempted to build a positive relationship with China, but while interactions between President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping have been cordial, unresolved tensions continue to sow discord.
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