Washington: The Pentagon is considering sending US military aircraft and ships to assert freedom of navigation around rapidly growing Chinese-made artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea, a US official said on Tuesday.
US Defence Secretary Ash Carter requested options that included sending US military ships and aircraft within 22 kilometres of reefs that China had been building up in the disputed Spratly Islands, the official said.
Such a move would directly challenge Chinese efforts to expand its influence in the disputed region by literally adding territory through a massive island-building exercise.
“We are considering how to demonstrate freedom of navigation in an area that is critical to world trade,” the US official said, speaking on condition of anonymity, adding that any options would need to be approved by the White House.
The Pentagon and White House did not immediately comment.
Chinese embassy spokesman Zhu Haiquan said China had “indisputable sovereignty” over the Nansha Islands and their adjacent waters, referring to the Spratlys by their Chinese name.
Last month, Reuters reported that Japan’s military was considering joining the US in maritime air patrols in the South China Sea in response to China’s increasingly assertive pursuit of territorial claims.
A US military source said a decision to begin such flights could prompt Tokyo to ask the Philippines for access to air bases, something that would allow aircraft to patrol longer.
Full article: South China Sea: US mulls sending planes, ships near disputed islands (The Age)