(Reuters) – The U.S. Navy plans to conduct another passage near disputed islands in the South China Sea in early April, a source familiar with the plan said on Friday, the third in a series of challenges that have drawn sharps rebukes from China.
Other U.S. officials, speaking after Reuters reported the plan, disputed that such an exercise was imminent. But they made clear Washington will continue to challenge what it considers Beijing’s unfounded maritime claims.
The United States has conducted what it calls “freedom of navigation” exercises in recent months, sailing near disputed islands to underscore its right to navigate the seas. U.S. Navy officials have said they plan to conduct more and increasingly complex exercises in the future.
“Our long-standing position is unchanged – we do not take a position on competing sovereignty claims to naturally formed land features in the South China Sea,” a senior Obama administration official said on Saturday.
“We routinely conduct such operations throughout the world to challenge maritime claims that would unlawfully restrict rights and freedoms provided in international law. This applies to the South China Sea as well,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The USS Stennis carrier strike group is currently operating in the South China Sea. The next freedom of navigation exercise is unlikely to be conducted by a carrier like the Stennis, but rather by a smaller ship, the source said.
Full article: U.S. plans third patrol near disputed South China Sea islands: source (Yahoo!)