U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson confirmed Wednesday that the Navy will continue to execute operations in the South China Sea and has no intent to leave the region, despite a relentless onslaught of Chinese propaganda urging America to eliminate its presence in the region entirely.
Richardson, in China to meet with Chinese North Sea Fleet Commander Yuan Yubai, confirmed that the U.S. will maintain its presence in the South China Sea, notwithstanding repeated demands from Beijing to leave and allow China to continue its various illegal operations in international waters.
“The U.S. Navy will continue to conduct routine and lawful operations around the world, including in the South China Sea, in order to protect the rights, freedoms and lawful uses of sea and airspace guaranteed to all. This will not change,” he said, according to Reuters.
Richardson warned Chinese authorities that he expected to “be continuously reassessing [his] support conditioned on continued safe and professional interactions at sea,” a reference to multiple incidents at sea in which Chinese military vessels have acted in ways their American counterparts have reported as unsafe.
Richardson also met with People’s Liberation Army-Navy commander Admiral Wu Shengli on Tuesday. He described their conversation as comprehensive: “We didn’t dodge any of the more contentious issues regarding dispositions in the South China Sea, the Court of Arbitration Ruling and those issues, recognizing that only through being completely frank and honest are we going to make any progress in those areas.”
The U.S. Navy has engaged in numerous operations in the South China Sea, where Beijing claims territory belonging to Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and Taiwan. The Chinese government has aggressively condemned the Navy’s two “freedom of navigation” exercises in the region – in October 2015 and February 2016 – designed to promote the safe use of the South China Sea as an international trade route not governed by any individual state. American officials responded to the protests by asserting that such exercises, in which warships pass near disputed territory without stopping, would become “routine” occurrences.
Last week, the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague ruled that China did not have the right to impose maritime borders unilaterally over the exclusive territory of other nations, and should cease the illegal construction of artificial islands and military facilities in the region immediately.
China has responding by vowing to disregard the verdict and continue developing reefs and islands in the region. “Civilian construction will increase significantly. Airports will be expanded. Airstrips on some of the islands, like the Meiji Reef and Zhubi Reef, will be lengthened,” a “naval expert” named Li Jie told the Global Times, the state-run propaganda outlet. “China may also increase the number of defensive weapons on the islands, depending on the threat level.”
China has also installed a 4G data system in the region to send messages reading “Welcome to China” to any ships traveling through international waters near the Spratly and Paracel Islands, claimed by Vietnam and the Philippines.
Although the government of the Philippines brought the territorial dispute to The Hague, Chinese media have actively targeted the U.S. and Japan as having manipulated the situation to bring about the verdict. “The US and Japan have engaged in some petty tricks,” an editorial in the Global Times claims. “The US interferes in the South China Sea out of its hegemonic ambitions, while Japan can’t accept a rising China,” it adds.
In response to state propaganda, Chinese people have taken to public protests against America, smashing their Apple iPhones and posting the videos on social media or harassing patrons of the American-owned KFC restaurant chain.