The commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet issued China a strong warning Wednesday.
Admiral Harry Harris, head of U.S. Pacific Command, criticized China’s “aggressive” behavior in the South China Sea in a speech at the Lowy Institute in Sydney, Australia, according to Reuters.
China has been expanding its presence, particularly its military presence, in the disputed South China Sea, a region through which trillions of dollars in international trade pass each year.
In addition to building artificial islands, China has also constructed military outposts in the highly-contested region to assert its dominance, even though the country’s vast claims to the region were discredited July 12 in a ruling by Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.
Some observers suspect that China intends to restrict access in the South China Sea in accordance with its perceived maritime rights.
“We will not allow a shared domain to be closed down unilaterally no matter how many bases are built on artificial features in the South China Sea,” explained Harris, “We will cooperate when we can but we will be ready to confront when we must.”
The U.S. has conducted four freedom-of-navigation operations challenging China’s territorial claims since October 2015.
“The U.S. fought its first war following our independence to ensure freedom of navigation,” Harris remarked, “This is an enduring principle, and one of the reasons our forces stand ready to fight tonight.”
“Beijing [has] choices to make,” he explained, “They can choose to disregard the rules-based international order or they can contribute to it as responsible stakeholders.”
The admiral also reassured America’s Asian allies, the New York Times introduced.
“You can count on America now and into the future,” Harris said, commenting that “reports of America’s abandonment of the Indo-Asia-Pacific have been greatly exaggerated” and calling the area “the most consequential region for America’s future.”
The warning to China comes at a time of heightened U.S.-China tensions, a byproduct of President-elect Donald Trump’s signaling that he intends to take a very different approach with regard to Taiwan and the “one China” policy from his predecessors.
“China’s position on the South China Sea issue is very clear and is subject to no change,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Wednesday.
“We hope that the US can stick to its pledge of not taking sides on sovereign disputes over the South China Sea, respect regional countries’ efforts to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea and contribute more to that end.”
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