US pledges to continue military patrols in South China Sea

MOSCOW — Washington will continue its military patrols in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, the US Navy’s Pacific Command chief said Tuesday.

Last week, China strongly criticized the United States after the naval destroyer USS Lassen sailed within 12 nautical miles of the Spratly archipelago in waters claimed by several regional powers. Washington responded that the maneuver was not in violation of international law.

“By matching our words and our diplomacy with routine freedom of navigation operations, we’re making it clear that the United States continues to favor peaceful resolutions to ongoing disputes and that our military will continue to fly, sail and operate whenever and wherever international law allows,” Adm. Harry B. Harris said at Peking University in Beijing, as quoted by The Wall Street Journal.

He stressed that the South China Sea “is not, and will not, be an exception.”

According to media reports, the US Navy intends to patrol the area twice per year quarter.

Over the past few months, Beijing has been constructing artificial islands, some with defense facilities, on the coral reefs of the Spratly Islands — a group of more than 750 islands and reefs. China claims sovereignty over the land and the 12 nautical mile zone surrounding the islands.

The United States does not recognize the Chinese claims of sovereignty over the man-made islands, and has repeatedly raised concerns over Beijing’s activities in the region.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said after the incident that China considered the passing of a US warship within 12 nautical miles of the artificially created islands to be illegal and a violation of China’s sovereignty. PNA/Sputnik