Multiple “Western and Asian” officials told Reuters in a report published Sunday that the United States is seeking to expand its Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs) in the South China Sea to respond to growing belligerence from China.
The United States is reportedly looking to increase the number of its naval patrols in the South China Sea to challenge China’s growing militarization of the disputed waterway. In defiance of international law, China has claimed most of the South China Sea, including territory belonging to Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan.
According to Reuters, U.S. officials declined to say when these changes will take place but noted that “the moves could involve longer patrols, ones involving larger numbers of ships or operations involving closer surveillance of Chinese facilities in the area, which now include electronic jamming equipment and advanced military radars.”
The head of the Pentagon, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, remarked during this weekend’s Shangri-La Dialogue security conference in Singapore that China’s militarization of the South China Sea has now become a “reality” and warned, “eventually, these (actions) do not pay off.”
“China’s policy in the South China Sea stands in stark contrast to the openness our strategy promotes. It calls into question China’s broader goals,” Mattis said. “The placement of these weapons systems is tied directly to military use for the purposes of intimidation and coercion.”
On Sunday, two American warships reportedly sailed within 12 miles of islands in the South China Sea. The move could reportedly be interpreted as an attempt to assert America’s stance on freedom of navigation in the international waters.
China has repeatedly objected to the global outrage over its colonization of the region.
“It is China’s sovereign and legal right for China to place our army and military weapons there,” He Lei, of the PLA’s Academy of Military Sciences, said outside the Singapore conference, according to Reuters. “We see any other country that tries to make noise about this as interfering in our internal affairs.”
On Thursday, Chinese government newspaper Global Times said the nation is intent on making “full preparations and strategic arrangements for long-lasting contention” with the United States in the disputed waters.
“The South China Sea as an arena for strategic competition between China and the US is difficult to cool down in the short term,” the Global Times wrote. “It’s very likely to heat up more in the future. China must make full preparations and strategic arrangements for long-lasting contention with the US in the area.”