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USN admiral warns Senate of worrying Chinese moves in South China Sea

FOUR-STAR Admiral Harry Harris, head of the US Navy's Pacific Command, urged US senators to ratify a UN sea treaty after recent moves by China and Russia toward greater control of the seas, including actions off Alaska's coast, reports the Alaska Dispatch News.

USN admiral warns Senate of worrying Chinese moves in South China Sea
23 September 2015 - 19:53

USN admiral warns Senate of worrying Chinese moves in South China Sea

FOUR-STAR Admiral Harry Harris, head of the US Navy's Pacific Command, urged US senators to ratify a UN sea treaty after recent moves by China and Russia toward greater control of the seas, including actions off Alaska's coast, reports the Alaska Dispatch News.

Signing the UN's Law of the Sea treaty would give the United States greater standing in protesting treaty violations by Russia and China in the Arctic and the East and South China seas, he said.

The long-festering issue of Chinese efforts drew new attention when five Chinese naval vessels were spotted off the coast of Alaska at the tail end of President Barrack Ocala’s visit earlier this month. 

the vessels passed within 12 nautical miles of the Aleutian Islands - within a zone otherwise considered off-limits. But military officials said the move was considered "innocent passage". 

"Peacetime freedom of navigation is under pressure. If not handled properly, territorial and maritime disputes could disrupt stability throughout the region," said Admiral Harris. 

Alaska Republican Seen Dan Sullivan said the US reaction "was muted, almost apologetic, relative to the way the Chinese respond when we come within 12 miles of one of their islands". 

Last month, Russia laid claim to nearly half a million square miles of Arctic territory, arguing that under the UN treaty, the seabed is part of a natural extension of its land. 

And in recent weeks, a Russian intelligence vessel sailed near one of Royal Dutch Shell's rigs in the Chukchi Sea. 

China's moves to militarise nearly 3,000 acres of recently claimed areas offshore are significant, said Admiral Harris. He pointed to construction of deepwater port facilities and three 10,000-foot runways - "only 1,000 feet shorter than would be required to land a space shuttle." 

"So that gives me great concern militarily," said the admiral. 

The South China Sea is of key concern for commerce, including $1.2 trillion in shipborne trade bound for the United States that passes through there each year. 

Sen Sullivan questioned whether the military and the White House are being forceful enough with China in an exchange with Admiral Harris and Ambassador David Shear, assistant secretary of the Department of Defence, at an Armed Services hearing.

"I thought it was more of a provocation, and a demonstration of their interest in the Arctic. I'm not sure that this White House would recognise a provocation if it was slapped in the face," said Sen Sullivan. 

Admiral Harris said the Chinese were conducting a long-planned exercise with the Russians in the Northern Pacific. "My opinion is that they went into the Bering Sea to demonstrate their capability to operate that far north, and then they decided to go home," he said. 

"I think it was coincidental" that Obama was in Alaska at the time, "but I don't know that for a fact. And their transit south was expeditious," said Admiral Harris. That is "their right to do under international law, as is our right to do in international law, wherever we operate." 

The line of 12 nautical miles is a significant one, senators argued, given recent moves by China to reclaim and militarise "islands" in the South China Sea. 

The White House will host a state dinner for Chinese President Xi Jinping on September 25. During his trip, Xi will also meet with business leaders in Seattle and speak to the United Nations in New York. 

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