Even with China participating in the Rim of the Pacific exercise organized by the U.S. in Hawaii and parts of Southern California, China remains firm regarding its stance regarding the territorial dispute in the South China Sea. In fact, China’s latest phone call with the U.S. had Beijing asking Washington not to take sides in the matter.
With the arbitration court at The Hague set to hand down their ruling in a few days, China had announced it will hold some exercises along the South China Sea until the day before the decision will be given. No locations of the exercise were named, but China gave coordinates along with a clear warning: “Entering prohibited.”
As for diplomatic communications, it was U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry who had initiated the call with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. During the said call, Reuters reports that China hopes the U.S. will honor its promise that it will not take sides when it comes to the South China Sea dispute. Moreover, Yi conveyed that China hopes the U.S. would “take no actions that harm China’s sovereignty and security interests” while speaking and acting “cautiously.”
Meanwhile, as diplomatic arguments ensue, the U.S. continues to hold patrols over the South China Sea even when China is in the middle of its military drill. As the Navy Times reports, destroyers Stethem, Momsen and Spruance have all been patrolling near the contested Spratly Islands and Scarborough Shoal over the past two weeks.
“We have been regularly patrolling within the 14 to 20 nautical mile range of these features,” an official confirmed.
The U.S. freedom of navigation patrols have not been welcomed by China in the past. The Chinese insists that such freedom only applies to commercial vessels, not those used by the military. President Barack Obama has long insisted that patrols would continue in the South China Sea.
Meanwhile, U.S. Pacific Fleet spokesman Lt. Clint Ramsden said, “Patrols by U.S. Navy destroyers like Spruance, Momsen and Stethem — as well as the USS Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group — are part of our regular and routine presence throughout the western Pacific. U.S. Navy forces have flown, sailed and operated in this region for decades and will continue to do so.”