Xi broke promise on South China Sea, says top US general
WASHINGTON—The US military’s top general said on Wednesday that Chinese President Xi Jinping reneged on promises not to militarize the South China Sea and called for “collective action” to hold Beijing responsible.
Gen. Joseph Dunford, chair of the Pentagon’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he was not calling for military action but stressed that there was a need to enforce international laws.
“The fall of 2016, President Xi Jinping promised President Obama that they would not militarize the islands. So what we see today are 10,000-foot (3,000-meter) runways, ammunition storage facilities, routine deployment of missile defense capabilities, aviation capabilities, and so forth,” Dunford said in a talk on US security and defense at Brooking Institution.
“So clearly they have walked away from that commitment,” he said.
“The South China Sea is in my judgment not a pile of rocks,” Dunford continued, referring to the series of reefs and outcrops that have been claimed as territory by China, reclaimed and expanded to accommodate military forces and large aircraft.
“What is at stake in the South China Sea and elsewhere where there are territorial claims is the rule of law, international laws, norms and standards,” he said.
“When we ignore actions that are not in compliance with international rules, norms and standards, we have just set a new standard,” he added.
“I’m not suggesting a military response,” Dunford stressed. “What needs to happen … is coherent collective action to those who violate international norms and standards. They need to be held accountable in some way so that future violations are deterred.”
Washington has been frustrated by an inability to stall China’s aggressive military colonization of the South China Sea, which rejects conflicting territorial claims by five other countries—Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and Philippines.
In 2016, the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague invalidated China’s claim over nearly the entire South China Sea in a challenge brought by the Philippines three years earlier.
But China ignored the ruling and proceeded to build military outposts on seven Philippine-claimed reefs, muffling protest from the Southeast Asian nation by plying its new government under President Rodrigo Duterte with aid, loans and pledges of investment.
Freedom of navigation
The United States has sent navy vessels through the areas claimed by China as “international freedom of navigation operations” but otherwise has found responding difficult.
Dunford acknowledged that building on the Chinese-claimed reefs had slowed.
But, he said, “I assume that’s because the islands have now been developed to the point where they provide the military capability that the Chinese required them to have.”
Another US defense official, Pentagon chief Patrick Shanahan, kicked off a weeklong Asian tour on Wednesday with an eye to strengthening ties with regional allies and having “candid” talks with his Chinese counterpart on Beijing’s growing might.
“It’s more about listening and being able to hear from the allies and partners,” the acting US defense secretary said in a plane bound for Jakarta, Indonesia.
Indonesia is the first leg of a tour that also includes stops in Singapore, South Korea and Japan.
On Thursday, Shanahan was expected to meet with Indonesian President Joko Widodo after talks with Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi and Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu.
Cooperation on maritime issues with the sprawling Southeast Asian archipelago nation was at the top of the agenda, as the United States looked to offset China’s expanding presence in the South China Sea.
In Singapore on Saturday, Shanahan is to meet Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue regional defense forum.
“I want to identify areas where we can cooperate,” Shanahan told reporters accompanying him on the trip, adding that he hoped to have “very candid discussions around intellectual property theft, or militarization of the South China Sea.”
He said rising tensions would not prevent the United States from pushing forward with a defense strategy that sees China and Russia as Washington’s main rivals.
“We have the capacity to spin a lot of plates,” he added.
Washington has deployed some 1,500 troops, an aircraft carrier, a warship, B-52 bombers and a Patriot missile battery in the Middle East, citing “threats” from Iran or progovernment militias toward its interests and troops in that region. —AFP
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.