In the past few days, foreign media reports have cited the U.S. military’s assertion that it intends to sail within the 12-nautical-mile radius of the reefs off China’s constructed islands inside the Spratley Islands, and that the U.S. Navy is already prepared for this and is just awaiting Obama’s final approval. During an interview with CCTV’s “Focus Today” program, military affairs expert Yin Zhuo stated that he believed U.S. warships sailing within a 12-mile radius of China’s island reefs in the South China Sea was a law enforcement operation, rather than a combat operation and that the U.S. wants to use this operation to challenge China’s sovereignty.
According to a report on a U.S. military website, 3rd Fleet Vice Adm. Officer Nora Tyson, who was participating in an exercise in San Francisco on Oct. 9, said they were just following orders, and that the 3rd Fleet would not rule out having to rush to the Western Pacific Ocean, together with the 7th Fleet, to implement “freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.”
Since May this year, there have continually been rumors that America is planning to dispatch warships to enter the waters around China’s artificial islands in the South China Sea. In the past few days, three officials from the Pentagon have revealed that the U.S. Navy is already prepared and is just awaiting Obama’s final approval. On Oct. 8, the British Financial Times cited an American official, stating that the warships will sail into the waters within the 12-nautical-mile radius of the reefs of the constructed islands, and that the operation is expected to take place within the next two weeks.
According to The New York Times on Oct. 12, the U.S. has informed its Asian allies of its plan to enter the South China Sea. In response to this, officials in the Philippines stated that they had already recently been made aware of America’s plans. Philippine Senator and Chairman of the Philippine National Defense and Security Committee Antonio Trillanes IV has welcomed the plan. These reports stated that U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry plan on meeting with Australian officials in Boston in 12 or 13 days to sort out relevant arrangements.
Discussing America’s plans to sail into the islands and reefs in the South China Sea, Yin Zhuo stated that America does not recognize the waters within the 12 nautical miles around the islands and reefs in the South China Sea as Chinese territorial waters, and does not recognize Chinese sovereignty with respect to these islands and reefs. The U.S. considers its entrance into the 12-mile radius a law enforcement operation rather than a combat operation; by passing through these 12 miles with no gunfire, no radar, no helicopters, etc., it is using this operation to threaten Chinese sovereignty under non-threatening conditions. The U.S. informed its allies as a strategic consideration in disrupting diplomatic and economic relations between China and Australia, Vietnam, and other countries.
Referring to how China should respond to this, Yin Zhuo says that, first of all, we Chinese need to carry out corresponding law enforcement operations to drive away warships entering the 12-nautical-mile radius of our islands and reefs, and that diplomatically, we need to raise a formal protest. If airplanes entered our territorial airspace, this would be a violation of international law, and we could conduct a counter-military operation. In the event that those planes turned out to be harmless, or unarmed, we could just drive them out of our air space. But if they threatened us, we could fire warning shots, or even shoot them down.