Further to this post,
a US Senate committee puts the Chief of Naval Operations-designate in a delicate situation (and what is POTUS’ policy?):
CAPITOL HILL: Adm. John Richardson sailed through his Senate confirmation hearing this morning [July 30]. But two ominous issues breached the surface, hinting at growing conflict between the administration and Hill Republicans over how to handle China.
Richardson, an experienced submariner nominated for Chief of Naval Operations, deftly dodged the difficult questions from Senate Armed Services Committee: Does US-China cooperation on nuclear reactors help their military? Should the US challenge China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea? But as both Beijing and Capitol Hill step up the pressure, he may not be able to dodge for long.
“Admiral, is China an adversary?” Sen. Tom Cotton asked bluntly.
“China is a complex nation,” Richardson replied. “Many of the things they’re doing have an adversarial nature to them,” he said (italics ours), notably the construction of pseudo-islands in the South China Sea.
So why are we helping them build up their nuclear navy? the senator asked…
The South China Sea
In both this morning’s hearing and in his written testimony, Adm. Richardson made clear that China’s building program in the South China Sea was “destabilizing.” What he didn’t make clear was what the administration plans to do about it — even when the committee pressed him.
In fact, there are rumors of a disagreement between the White House and the military’s Pacific Command on a crucial question: whether to fly or sail within 12 nautical miles of the new Chinese bases [emphasis added]. China claims its constructions in the South China Sea are permanent and inhabited islands, which would legally mean they are each surrounded by territorial waters and airspace for 12 miles in every direction. The US considers them to be artificial and temporary structures, which under international law means they have no legal impact on other nations’ rights of passage in the surrounding seas or airspace. The Chinese have made it clear they think that flying or sailing within 12 nautical miles of these structures would be an unmistakable challenge to their claims.
“Sailing inside 12nm is a key component to any freedom of navigation campaign that seeks to reject China’s claims to these man-made islands,” one Senate staffer told me. “Secretary [of Defense Ashton] Carter‘s speech in Singapore was excellent, but now it’s time we back up his strong words with very visible actions.”
“There seems to be a confusion in our policy,” Sen. Dan Sullivan said at the hearing. At the recent Shangri-la conference in Singapore, he said, “Sec. Carter stated we will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows (and that) turning an underwater rock into an airfield simply does not afford the rights of sovereignty or permit restrictions on international air and maritime transit. However, PACOM commander [Harry] Harris just two weeks ago at the Aspen Security Forum stated it is US policy to afford a 12-(mile) limit around all (features) in the South China Sea… to include islands and formations.”
“It’s absolutely important that the Navy continue to be present in that region,” Richardson said, “(but) we do have to respect the legitimately claimed territorial boundaries.”
“Does that mean respecting that?” Sullivan said, pointing scornfully to a photo of China’s airstrip atop one of the structures known as Fiery Cross Reef…
Hmm. Possession is nine-tenths of…Much more here, with lots of visuals, in a major NY Times piece:
What China Has Been Building in the South China Sea
China has been feverishly piling sand onto reefs in the South China Sea for the past year, creating seven new islets in the region. It is straining geopolitical tensions that were already taut.