Published Date : Oct 12, 2015
The U.S. has decided to challenge China and undertake patrols near the controversial islands China has built, and the construction of which has alarmed nearby countries, in the South China Sea. What was Reef only a year back, has been developed into seven islets by China. The patrols will test president Xi Jinping's pledge that China does not intent on militarizing the artificial islands, a recent announcement that has taken U.S. officials by surprise.
The Xi Jinping had taken the pledge during a news conference with the U.S. president Barack Obama at the White House last month, though he had not made it clear about how the pledge would change the way in which China is operational in the area near the disputed island.
If through the announcement, the president was wishing to discourage the U.S. from conducting patrols in the area near the artificial islands, it looks like he has not succeeded. After discussions that lasted for many months in the U.S. government, a consensus has now been reached that the U.S. Navy should undertake the work of patrolling with the help of ships or aircrafts that will study the situation within 12 nautical mile s of the island. The patrols seek to challenge China's territorial claims in the area, according to inside people familiar with the discussions.
On Sunday, the news was confirmed by a U.S. official that the decision regarding undertaking the patrols but added that it was not clear where exactly they will happen or when. Another U.S. official hinted that the operation could begin within days.
What needs to be seen now is how China will respond to the operations by continuing its plans to develop the island or by backing out of the pledge of not militarizing the islands and pointing to the planned patrols as a provocation.
The Pacific Fleet is ready for conducting freedom of navigation operations, or Fonops, near the disputed island after being asked for many months to draw up by the U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter throughout the year.