US: No valid reason for China to restrict navigation in disputed sea

Patricia Lourdes Viray - Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines – The United States (US) on Tuesday stressed that China does not have a valid reason in its attempt to restrict freedom of navigation and overflight in the disputed South China Sea.

US Department of State Deputy Assistant Secretary for Strategy and Multilateral Affairs in the East Asia and Pacific Bureau Colin Willett said that the facilities that China has been building in the disputed waters are not needed to protect civilians or monitor the weather.

"The runways that they have built are designed to accommodate strategic bombers, not coddle points for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. We still see radio operators channeling for ships and planes that are operating in accordance to the international law and warning them to stay away," Willett said in a telephone conference with members of the press.

READ: China flexes muscle in disputed waters

Willett also hit Beijing's accusation that the US is militarizing the South China Sea, adding that they found China's accusation "perplexing."

Earlier this year, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei claimed that the patrols by US military aircraft and Navy vessels in the region have escalated tensions in the disputed sea.

This follows reports that China had deployed surface-to-air missiles on Woody Island in the Paracel Island chain.

READ: China: It’s US militarizing South China Sea

Willett emphasized that all American operations in the South China Sea were executed in full accordance with the international law.

"We have been transiting and operating in the South China Sea for decades to protect those rights and it is hard to see why our partnerships and operations can now be characterized as militarizing," Willett said.

The US Department of State official added that the US conducts freedom of operation activities in the region to protect the navigational rights of foreign nations.

"These laws, these rules, these rights are important to the stability and prosperity of the neighborhood and to the Asia Pacific," Willett said.

Willett noted that the US is committed to promoting regional security and prosperity as reflected in the "Sunnylands Declaration" signed in February.

US President Barack Obama and ASEAN leaders signed the 17-point declaration which agrees to respect the sovereignty of every nation and abide by the rules under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

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