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Navy chief reiterates stand on South China Sea in Hawaii visit

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    In May the Navy littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth conducted patrols in international waters of the South China Sea near the Spratly Islands

New Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said today that if international law allows freedom of navigation near China’s man-made islands in the South China Sea, then it should come as no surprise that the United States would exercise that right.

The U.S. government is said to be preparing to send a surface ship within 12 nautical miles of the artificial islands China has created in the contested Spratly Islands as a “freedom of navigation” demonstration.

“You take a look at the international law,” Richardson said after an “all-hands” call today with sailors at Pearl Harbor. “If international law allows us to operate there, in general, then we should do that, right? We should feel free to do that. And it should not surprise anybody or come as anything that’s unconventional.”

Richardson said “as the president, and the secretary of defense and the Pacific commander have said, I support that the United States Navy is a global Navy, and we should feel free to sail, fly, operate anywhere that international law allows.”

China claims much of the South China Sea as part of its territory, an assertion rejected by the United States, which maintains the waters are international and can be traversed.

A 12-nautical-mile territorial limit normally applies to land, but the United States does not recognize China’s sovereign claims with the man-made islands it is creating. Some U.S. officials believe China will use the islands for military purposes to control shipping and airspace in the vitally important economic region.

A U.S. Navy patrol within 12 nautical miles would reinforce America’s contention that the waters are international. The United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea does not recognize artificial islands for territorial purposes.

Beijing issued a warning that it “will never allow any country to violate China’s territorial waters and airspace in the Spratly Islands in the name of protecting freedom of navigation and overflight,” news agency Reuters reported Friday.

The United States has begun briefing allies in Asia about the plan to conduct Naval patrols near China’s artificial islands, the New York Times reported.

Richardson became the 31st chief of Naval operations on Sept. 18. He is making his first trip to Hawaii in the role. 

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