Washington – To assert freedom of navigation on the waters of the West Philippine Sea or South China Sea, the United States is sending its aircraft and warships near the growing Chinese-made artificial islands.
A requested options by the U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter that include sending U.S. Navy vessels and aircraft within 12 nautical miles of reefs that China has been building up in the disputed Spratly Islands located between Vietnam and the Philippines.
Such a move would specifically test Beijing’s undeniably assertive action to expand its influence in the disputed region by literally adding territory through a massive island-building exercise.
Officials say, would be to send Navy ships and aircraft to within 12 nautical miles of only those artificial structures that the U.S. does not legally consider to be islands. But as a proposal under consideration, as first reported on by the Wall Street Journal.
U.S. officials noted that a reclaimed features are not entitled to territorial waters if the original features are not islands recognized under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
And under that interpretation, the U.S. believes it does not need to honor the 12-mile zone around the built-up reefs that were not considered to be islands before construction there began.
Defense Secretary Carter earlier decried Beijing’s reclamation binge on seven reefs also claimed by the Philippines and five other Southeast Asian countries. Some of the reefs are about 140 miles to 160 miles off the southern island of Palawan — and believed to be within Manila’s 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone under UNCLOS.