Top admiral: China militarizing disputed seas

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The head of U.S. Pacific Command says China is clearly militarizing the South China Sea despite its pledge not to do so.

“China is clearly militarizing the South China Sea, and you’d have to believe in flat earth to think otherwise,” Admiral Harry Harris told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.

Commercial satellite imagery released Monday appears to show that China is installing a radar station on reclaimed land on Cuarteron Reef in the Spratly Islands

{mosads}That’s on top of satellite imagery released last week showing that China deployed a surface-to-air missile system to Woody Island in the Paracel Islands.

China says the missile system has been on the island for a while and that it has a right to deploy defensive systems to its territory.

China claims much of the South China Sea, but other countries in the region also have claims to the disputed waters.

During a September visit to the White House, Chinese President Xi Jinping said his country had no intention to militarize the South China Sea.

But the missiles on Woody Island and the radar and Cuarteron Reef show otherwise, Harris said.

“These are actions that are changing the operational landscape in the South China Sea,” he said.

Harris agreed with Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) call for the military to do more patrols in those waters.

The Navy has twice sent ships within 12 nautical miles of China’s reclaimed islands in so-called freedom of navigation operations. But McCain wants the patrols to happen more frequently.

“The administration must initiate a robust ‘freedom of the seas campaign,’ flying and sailing wherever international law allows,” said McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “This should include freedom of navigation operations designed to challenge China’s excessive maritime claims as well as joint patrols and exercises with our allies and partners that span the First Island Chain.”

McCain had a slew of other recommendations to deter China, including continuing sensitive reconnaissance operations even though surface-to-air missiles could threaten U.S. aircraft.

He also suggested sanctions against Chinese companies involved in China’s reclamation work in the South China Sea, as well as an Asian Reassurance Initiative similar to the European Reassurance Initiative the Pentagon has to deter Russia.

“Simply put, the administration’s policy has failed,” he said. “Beijing has been willing to accept a high level of risk to achieve its strategic goals. Meanwhile, the White House’s risk aversion has resulted in an indecisive and inadequate policy that has confused and alarmed our regional allies and partners.”

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