U.S. President Barack Obama may be in Vietnam to affirm the lifting of the country’s ban on defense sales, but his mind was clearly on something else: the arguably larger issue rising looming along the South China Sea. On Tuesday, he said that while the U.S. is not among the countries engaged in a territorial dispute, he promises to maintain freedom of navigation in the area.
In front of the Vietnamese people, Obama said, ” We will stand with partners in upholding core principles, like freedom of navigation and overflight, and lawful commerce that is not impeded, and the peaceful resolution of disputes, through legal means, in accordance with international law.” The U.S. president never brought up China as he said this. There is perhaps, no need do since U.S. actions currently speak louder than words.
Ever since China’s has ramped up its activities on disputed territories, including the Scarborough Shoal, Paracels Island and Spratlys Islands, the U.S. has decided to increase its presence in the region. Last month, it committed to increasing its military presence in ally country Philippines, which is currently involved in a tense dispute with China regarding the Scarborough Shoal. China also frowned upon the Philippines’ decision to bring the dispute matter to the arbitration court at The Hague, saying it will not honor the court’s decision either way.
US Increases Its Presence In The Philippines And Elswhere Along The South China Sea
Either way, too, the U.S. has made good on its promise to increase its presence in the Philippines and along the disputed territories along the South China Sea. Just a few days ago, the USS John C. Stennis Strike Group made it way to Subic and Manila in the Philippines for a routine port visit. The group was made up of the USS John C. Stennis with Carrier Air Wing 9, guided missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay and guided missile destroyers USS Chung-Hoon, USS Stockdale and USS William P. Lawrence.
China’s Encounter With The USS William P. Lawrence
The USS William P. Lawrence also became the subject of Chinese ire recently as China insisted that the guided missile destroyer had entered waters near Yongshu Reef in China’s Nansha Islands along the South China Sea illegally. In response, China scrambled two of its J-11 jets along with one Y-8 AWACs from the PLA Navy’s aviation force. China also pointed out that such acts of provocation provide justification as to why the country should have defense facilities on related islets and reefs along the Nansha islands.
Following the incident, the U.S. said that the USS William P. Lawrence was only undertaking a freedom of navigation operation. In response, China’s Foreign Ministry has insists that the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) says only allows for “innocent passage by foreign vessels through others’ territorial waters.” This does not include military vessels.
China Questions U.S.’ Definition Of Freedom Of Navigation
The same sentiment is being echoed by China today, following Obama’s remarks in Vietnam. In response, China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said ” I think it should first make clear whether it is talking about the real freedom of navigation enjoyed by all countries under international law or a “freedom” exclusive to the US military vessels and planes to do whatever they want. If it is the first one, we will surely welcome and stand for it. Otherwise, I believe the entire world would say no to it.”