11/03/2015, 00.00
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Washington challenges Beijing: We will return to disputed South China Sea waters

Confirmed by a US admiral during a conference at the University of Beijing. The US Navy has been carrying out similar operations for decades and the Asia-Pacific "is not an exception." Protests against the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping mount in Vietnam. Thousands of signatures in online petition.

Beijing (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The United States will return with their warships in the disputed waters of the South China Sea soon. It is an open challenge to Beijing’s strong condemnation of the transit of missile destroyer USS Lassen near the Subi and Mischief atolls, in the Spratly archipelago in late October.  The intention to return to the area was confirmed by a senior US Army officer, who added that Washington has made this carried out these kinds of operations worldwide "for decades".

Speaking at Beijing University, US Admiral Harry Harris made it clear that the recent US actions should not be cause for surprise. "For decades - he explains - we have conducted navigation operations around the world, so I do not see why anyone would question them now."

"Our military vessels - he added - will continue to navigate, fly and operate wherever and whenever international laws allow. The South China Sea is not - and will not – be an exception. " However, maneuvers which he calls "routine", should not be construed as a "threat to any country."

Previously an US government official, speaking anonymously, had told Reuters that similar patrols "happen at least a few times per quarter." However, freedom of navigation and security in the South China Sea is of primary concern to the US government.

Meanwhile in Vietnam there are mounting protests for the upcoming official visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping, in the context of a two-day meeting at the invitation of General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam Nguyen Phu Trong and President Truong Tan Sang.

Eight local NGOs and 1,700 activists living in Vietnam and abroad have signed an online petition against the visit of the Chinese leader. They protest the Beijing’s aggressive policy in the South China Sea that has caused clashes between the two countries - once communist allies - and attacks on Vietnamese fishing boats.

China’s construction of airstrips and artificial atolls in contested areas is further confirmation of Beijing’s "imperialist" policy in the region, which has seen an increasing acceleration in the last two years. For the United States and the Philippines these artificial islands represent a new threat in the region and in the past Washington had not ruled out the navigation of its ships within the area claimed by China for its exclusive use, further ratcheting up already high tensions in the area.

In recent years, Vietnam and the Philippines - which has taken its case to a UN court - have shown growing concern over China's "imperialism" in the South and East China Seas. The Chinese government claims most of the sea (almost 85 per cent), including sovereignty over the disputed Spratly and Paracel islands, in opposition to Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia. For the United States, which backs the claims of Southeast Asia nations, Beijing's so-called 'cow tongue' line is both "illegal" and "irrational".  

Anyone with a hegemonic sway over the region would have a strategic advantage, in terms of seabed (oil and gas) development, but also in trade since two thirds of the world's maritime trade transit through it, with a total value of at least $ 5 trillion.


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