South China Sea: claims White House ‘gagged’ US navy chief over China criticism

China’s construction of a “great wall of sand” with artificial islands in the South China Sea has sparked a stoush in Washington, with claims the White House has gagged US navy commanders criticising Beijing.

US Pacific commander Harry Harris has been most prominent amid repeated warnings by US military leaders that China’s ambitions in the disputed waters are destabilising the region.

He warned an audience in Canberra last year that China’s artificial islands – with deep ports, airstrips and military facilities on former coral atolls – amounted to “creating a great wall of sand with dredges and bulldozers”.

But an article in the military publication Navy Times this week reported the White House had sought to muzzle commanders ahead of a recent meeting between President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping.

The article said National Security Adviser Susan Rice imposed the gag order on March 18 to allow “maximum political maneuvering space” for the two leaders ahead of their meeting last week, citing two unnamed “defence officials”.

Admiral Harris had sparked further controversy earlier last month, seeking to revive an idea abandoned a decade ago for a naval coalition between Australia, the US, Japan and India.

The Navy Times said Admiral Harris had been frustrated in seeking “a muscular US response”, to include launching aircraft and conducting military operations within 19 kilometres of China’s artificial islands.

Full article: South China Sea: claims White House ‘gagged’ US navy chief over China criticism (Sydney Morning Herald)

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