The Chinese government bristled at reports suggesting the Trump administration is considering a new round of Freedom of Navigation operations (FONOPs) in the South China Sea, warning the United States not to “challenge China’s sovereignty” in territory international courts have found China has no claims to.
“China has indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and their adjacent waters,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Wednesday, adding that “the situation in the South China Sea is getting steady and moving in a positive direction.” China, he added, hoped “that countries outside the region will respect efforts made by China and ASEAN countries,” referring to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which contains most of the countries whose territory China claims as its own.
Geng added a warning to the United States “to refrain from challenging China’s sovereignty and security and to respect regional countries’ efforts to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea.”
China claims the Spratly and Paracel Islands, the Scarborough Shoal, and waters in the sovereign territory of Brunei, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Malaysia. In July 2016, China lost at case at the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague over its claims in the region. The court found that China’s mounting colonization of territories in the region violated international law. The Chinese government vowed to ignore the ruling and has continued to install military assets on non-Chinese territory without the consent of the nations involved.
The United States has responded to China’s claims in the region in the past with FONOPs, which consist of American military vessels sailing within 12 nautical miles of the territory in question. A Navy Times article suggested this week that the U.S. Navy was planning new FONOPs in the near future. A defense official confirmed those plans to Breitbart News on Tuesday, stating that Defense Secretary James Mattis needs only approve them for them to occur.
Mattis’s first trip abroad as Pentagon chief took him to South Korea and Japan, two U.S. allies with significant concerns regarding Chinese colonialism in the region. While there, Mattis addressed a different territorial dispute in the East China Sea, warning China to cease attempting to conquer Japan’s Senkaku Islands or face a military encounter with the United States. America is treaty-bound to defend Japanese territory under foreign attack.
China responded by sailing warships near the disputed islands shortly after Mattis concluded his trip.
Chinese state propaganda outlets have also published stories boasting of new technology that would allow them greater control of the South China Sea. On Wednesday, the Communist Party publication People’s Daily reported that China is currently constructing the successor to its only aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, which should be ready for deployment in 2020. The ship would be the first Chinese-made aircraft carrier in the Navy’s fleet and may pose a threat in the disputed region.
The Global Times, another state publication, quoted a government scientist with the China Atomic Energy Authority who told the newspaper that “China will develop floating nuclear power stations… to promote the exploitation of oil and gas resources and provide a safe and efficient power supply to remote islands in the South China Sea.”